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Veterans Group Planning Challenge Of Judge’s Order To Remove Soledad Cross

Video by Nicholas Mcvicker

The San Diego veterans group who erected the cross on Mt. Soledad is planning to challenge a federal judge's ruling that the 43-foot-tall cross must be removed.

A veteran’s group is challenging a federal judge’s ruling Thursday that the cross atop Mt. Soledad in La Jolla must be removed.

Mt. Soledad was declared a national war memorial in 2006. In 2011, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the cross is a religious symbol and violates the First Amendment.

The Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Association originally erected the cross in 1954. The group is challenging the judge’s ruling with the Liberty Institute, a legal group focused on religious issues.

The judge ruled Thursday that the 43-foot cross must be taken down within 90 days. Bruce Bailey, president of the MSMA, said this gives his group time to appeal the decision.

“It’s unfortunate that the 9th Circuit left the judge no choice but to order the tearing down of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross,” Bailey said. “However, we are grateful for the judge’s stay that gives us an opportunity to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court.”

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal the 9th Circuit Court's decision.

Joseph Lathrop, an Army veteran and Buddhist, also thinks the cross should stay.

“It’s a memorial," he said. "I mean, it's like knocking over the headstone at any person’s grave. I mean, just leave it alone, it’s not bothering anybody.”

In 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America and other San Diego residents who wanted the cross removed.

Jeff Wergeles, deputy director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said the site’s distinction as a memorial means it should be free of religious icons.

“On church property or someone’s backyard, that’s perfectly wonderful. But if we’re celebrating all service people who have fought under our flag, we should have something nonsecular,” Wergeles said.

Wergeles said the legal battle over the cross could go on for up to three years. The cross will stay on Mt. Soledad until the fight is settled.

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