Last year, the Blaze first told you about a controversial cross atop the Mt. Soledad War Memorial in San Diego, Calif. As we reported, the religious symbol was deemed unconstitutional by the the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But, despite this ruling, the fight is far from over. Supporters, led by the non-profit, conservative legal firm, Liberty Institute, have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to save what they see as an important memorial that commemorates U.S. soldiers. Additionally, the federal government, which has defended the cross' presence thus far, may also appeal the decision.
The legal battle has been going on for two decades and shows no signs of waning. Despite the cross serving as a commemorative monument, critics may point to the fact that it was also used in Easter celebrations back in the early 1900s. However, it was in the 1950s that it became a memorial to Korean War veterans. Our previous report provides insight regarding why atheists are continuing to push so adamantly against the cross:
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).
Liberty Institute has now filed a petition on behalf of the Mount Soledad Memorial Association to allow the 29-foot cross to remain where it is, overlooking the Pacific Ocean in suburban La Jolla, California. In addition to its plea to the Supreme Court, the group has also been trying to save the cross through its "Don't Tear Me Down Campaign."
"If the ACLU gets its way and this veterans memorial cross is torn down, what will happen to the 20-foot Canadian Cross of Sacrifice in Arlington Memorial Cemetery and the countless others like it in nearly every community nationwide?," the group asks on the "Don't Tear Me Down" web site.
Supporters contend that the cross, in itself, isn't "religious," but that it commemorates soldiers who have served in battles as far back as World War I and as recent as Iraq. Mount Soledad Memorial Association head William J. Kellogg said that removing the cross would constitute "an unforgivable insult" and he defended it, saying that similar crosses exist without incident in other cities.
"Why shouldn’t there be a military cross in San Diego, too?" Kellogg protested. "This is a military city whose veterans deserve to be remembered."
But atheists couldn't disagree more regarding its presence on federal land.
"This cross is unconstitutional in a multitude of courts and every time that happens they've upped the ante," said Bruce Gleason, the founder of the Backyard Skeptics, a local atheist group (last year, Gleason organized an event during which atheists publicly ripped up Bible verses and, in a separate incident, he posted a billboard with an inaccurate Thomas Jefferson quote).
The ACLU, which won the 9th District lawsuit, obviously agrees with Gleason. The group takes particular issue with a bill that the U.S. House of Representatives passed last month that would allow for religious symbols to be displayed at war memorials; this cross was the key catalyst behind the congressional effort. Currently, supporters are pushing the Senate to approve the same measure. UT San Diego has more:
House Resolution 290, introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Brian Bilbray of Solana Beach and Darrell Issa of Vista would not resolve the constitutionality of the cross. However, it would for the first time give statutory protection to religious symbols in all war memorials.
Critics of the legislation said it was unnecessary and inappropriate because determining the constitutionality of religious symbols rests with the courts.
Here's Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) defending HR 290 on the House floor last month:
"Congress cannot, by definition, authorize the government to violate the Constitution," said David Loy, who works as the ACLU's legal director in San Diego. "It's unconstitutional for the government to sponsor and maintain this particular cross that is visible for miles. The point of a war memorial or veterans' memorial is to remember all veterans."
While atheists, the ACLU and other church-state separatists are pushing the issue, the Supreme Court has become more friendly to religious symbols being present on government property. In 2010, the high court refused to order the removal of a war-memorial cross from California's Mojave Desert (the cross was later stolen).
This issue is far from resolved, as are other related religious freedom cases. In a separate incident, atheists have targeted a cross that was erected on the Marine Corps base of Camp Pendleton to honor fellow fallen troops. As atheists have continued to push for its removal, the military is now investigating the matter.