A cross perched atop the Mt. Soledad War Memorial in San Diego, Calif., was deemed unconstitutional Tuesday by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the court did not explicitly say the landmark must be removed.
The long-awaited decision is the latest ruling in a 20-year legal battle over the presence of the cross on public land, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Tuesday's ruling was written by Judge M. Margaret McKeown, a Clinton-era appointee. In the 50-page decicision, the court examined the history of war memorials and the use of the Latin cross. In the end, Judge McKeown concluded that "the Memorial, presently configured and as a whole, primarily conveys a message of government endorsement of religion that violates the establishment clause," she said, referring to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. (Click here to view the full ruling)
"This result does not mean that the Memorial could not be modified to pass constitutional muster, nor does it mean that no cross can be part of this veterans' memorial," she continued. "We take no position on those issues."
So what does the ruling mean exactly? In essence, Tuesday's ruling reverses a ruling by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns who previously ruled that the cross is just one element of a larger war memorial -- a memorial meant to honor all service veterans -- and could be used as a secular symbol of service and sacrifice.
The Mount Soledad war memorial currently sits on land that's been under the control of the U.S. Defense Department since 2006. Though the city had owned the land for decades prior, the federal government's acquisition of the land meant the city was forced to remove the cross or face daily fines. After the Defense Department acquired the land, a lawsuit was filed by a group of Jewish war veterans and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).