.- A federal appeals court will not review a ruling that the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial cross is unconstitutional, but supporters of the landmark say they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Jan. 4 that the 29-foot cross, located in a San Diego public park near the suburb of La Jolla, conveyed the message of state-endorsed religion
Supporters of the cross and the U.S. Department of Justice requested a review by a larger panel of the court, but a majority of active judges did not vote for a rehearing on Oct. 14.
The cross was dedicated in 1954 to honor veterans of the Korean War. It consists of six concentric walls with plaques honoring more than 2,800 veterans, brick steps, and a cross.
The Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, which oversees the memorial, filed the lawsuit. It was represented by the Plano, Texas-based Liberty Institute.
“Although we are disappointed that the Ninth Circuit denied requests to have the full court rehear this case, we are encouraged that five of the judges agree with us and believe the cross should stay,” said Liberty Institute president Kelly Shackelford, Esq. “With this encouragement and the recent ruling in favor of the Mojave Veterans Memorial, we plan to appeal to The Supreme Court.”
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Bruce S. Bailey, president of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, defended the cross’ presence.
“People want this veterans memorial to remain as it is, from the thousands who visit it each month to honor our nation's veterans, to the 76 percent of San Diegans who voted to give it to the Federal Government as a national veterans' memorial,” he said.
“The Mt. Soledad Memorial Association is committed to preserving this veterans memorial so that future generations will also know the cost of freedom.”
The cross has been a target for litigation for 22 years. The Jewish War Veterans, the American Civil Liberties Union and others have challenged the cross’ presence on federal land on the grounds that it violates the principle of separation of church and state.
“We don’t think the government should be in the business of religion,” David Blair-Loy, legal director for the ACLU in San Diego, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
In a 2005 vote, San Diego residents overwhelmingly approved a measure to preserve the cross by donating the land on which it sits to the federal government.
In 2006, Congress passed a law authorizing the seizure of the land for use as a war memorial. The land is presently under the control of the Department of Defense.