The Mount Soledad war memorial cross was erected near San Diego, California in 1954 and has been at the center of controversy for two decades surrounding whether or not its presence is legal, since the religious memorial is owned by the government. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been fighting against the cross for years on behalf of atheist war veteran Philip Paulson.
In 2011, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the display was unconstitutional as it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“The use of such a distinctively Christian symbol to honor all veterans sends a strong message of endorsement and exclusion,” the court wrote in its 50-page opinion. “It suggests that the government is so connected to a particular religion that it treats that religion’s symbolism as its own, as universal. To many non-Christian veterans, this claim of universality is alienating…”
The decision was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the case was rejected for review. However, Justice Samuel Alito stated that the court may wish to hear the matter after the local district court rules on the ultimate fate of the cross.
Legal argument is now focused on whether or not the 29-foot cross must be torn down as a result of the 9th Circuit ruling. The U.S. Department of Justice and the ACLU have discussed matters surrounding what must be done with the display.
On Wednesday, the Christian law groups Advocates for Faith and Freedom and the American Center for Law and Justice jointly filed an amicus brief on behalf of 18 members of Congress who want to save the cross. The legal brief recommends that the cross be purchased and owned by a private party so that it no longer presents constitutional concerns.
“Amici strongly disagree with the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holding that the federal government’s operation of the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial violates the Establishment Clause due to the presence of its commemorative cross,” court documents stated. “At this juncture, however, Amici believe that the best course of action, in keeping with the goal of maintaining the Memorial as a longstanding tribute to our men and women in uniform, is to allow a private organization to continue to maintain the property as a veterans’ memorial, via a sale or land transfer.”
“While we contend that the decision by the appeals court is legally flawed, we believe there’s an appropriate solution that would not mandate that the commemorative cross to be removed – a solution that would continue to honor our military veterans,” commented Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ. “We’re urging the court to permit a private organization to obtain and operate the war memorial – a remedy that would remove any constitutional questions and protect this longstanding tribute to our men and women in uniform.”
Congressmen listed as represented by the Christian legal organizations include Randy Forbes of Virginia, Duncan Hunter of California, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Robert Latta of Ohio and others.