The Mount Soledad Cross
WASHINGTON, June 25, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Supreme Court won’t hear an appeal seeking to keep a 29-foot cross that serves as a tribute to fallen soldiers on federally-owned territory in California, against complaints that the symbol implies a state preference for Christianity.
The large cross, which was erected at the Mt. Soledad War Memorial in 1954, has been the subject of years of controversy. In 2006 a lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America. The current cross, erected as a tribute to fallen Korean War veterans, replaced an earlier version honoring World War I soldiers in 1913, and is now surrounded by over 3,200 plaques honoring the fallen from the Civil War to Iraq.
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a U.S. district court’s ruling in 2008 in favor of the cross, saying that the cross “conveys a message of government endorsement of religion,” and that the history of anti-Semitism in the area undermines its claim to secularity. The court did not say that the cross needed to be taken down, but remanded the case back down to the same district court for reconsideration.
The full Ninth Circuit Court in October refused to retry the case, as did the Supreme Court this week, after both sides of the suit had asked the high court to weigh in.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Tuesday stated in a three-page ruling that although “the constitutionality of the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial is a question of substantial importance,” the case was not yet ripe for review, “because no final judgment has been rendered and it remains unclear precisely what action the Federal Government will be required to take.”
Once a final judgment has been rendered by the lower court, wrote Alito, plaintiffs would be “free to raise the same issue in a later petition,” and noted, “Our denial, of course, does not amount to a ruling on the merits.”
The federal government, joined by 34 members of Congress, have joined the fight to protect the memorial.
“Nothing in the Establishment Clause compels that [the cross be removed], because the Establishment Clause does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm,” stated the Justice Department in a petition to the Court submitted by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.
The cross has been rescued by Congress before: in 2006, following 17 years of wrangling to bring the cross into safer hands, the United States Senate voted unanimously to transfer the Mt. Soledad Cross onto federal property after an atheist San Diego resident convinced a federal judge to order its removal by the city. The year before, the city of San Diego had voted 75 percent in favor of a ballot measure to transfer the memorial to federal hands, but Superior Court Judge Patricia Yim Cowett declared the ballot measure “an unconstitutional aid to religion” and struck it down.