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High Court Could Hear Mt. Soledad Cross Case

The U.S. Solicitor General today joined the appeal of a ruling that declared the Mt. Soledad cross unconstitutional, raising the chances that the U.S. Supreme Court will accept the case.

View of the Mount Soledad Cross and Veterans Memorial.
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Above: View of the Mount Soledad Cross and Veterans Memorial.

The appeal of the 9th U.S. Court of Appeal ruling was filed last month by the Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal group specializing in religious rights.

"The U.S. government decided to do the right thing and fight alongside the veterans in honoring the selfless sacrifice and service of the millions of veterans who courageously stood for the United States of America,'' said Kelly Shackelford, chief executive officer and president of the Texas-based institute.

"Today, we are one step closer to our goal of having the Supreme Court ending this travesty for good -- for the sake of all veterans and their memorials nationwide,'' Shackelford said.

The court fight over the cross that overlooks La Jolla has been going on for more than two decades.

Opponents claim it violates the separation of church and state in the Establishment Clause, and imposes a symbol of one religion at the expense of others. Supporters say the 29-foot structure is only one part of a memorial to war veterans, in which symbols of other religions are represented.

According to the petition by the solicitor general, the appellate court used only one test to rule the cross unconstitutional, but other tests are available that make the monument consistent with the Establishment Clause.

The appellate decision "effectively invalidated an act of Congress and called for the government to tear down a cross that has stood without incident for 58 years as a highly venerated memorial to the nation's fallen service members,'' the petition states.

The Liberty Institute calls the cross "a passive display'' of religion of the type high court justices have approved in the past.

The document said the Supreme Court has previously ruled that displays with religious content don't necessarily violate the Establishment Clause.

Opponents, who demonstrated at the memorial when the appeal was announced, say the cross unconstitutionally favors a religion while on federal property.

"This cross, which is on government and public land, has no function except to promote one brand of religion,'' said Bruce Gleason, who belongs to an Orange County group called Backyard Skeptics.

"The defenders of keeping the cross say that the cross is a war memorial, but it was not until a lawsuit against the cross for 1st Amendment violation did the defenders start promoting it as a war memorial.''

The Liberty Institute cited a study in which the Supreme Court takes on about 70 percent of the cases in which the solicitor general becomes involved.

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