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U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear appeal on Mt. Soledad cross

June 25, 2012 | 10:40 am

CrossThe U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal from the federal government seeking to overturn a lower court ruling that the cross atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego violates the Constitution.

But the fight over the cross may not be over. Supporters of maintaining the 43-foot cross, erected in 1954, plan to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to continue the legal fight to keep the cross from being torn down.

Turning down the appeal, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that, "Our denial, of course, does not amount to a ruling on the merits, and the Federal Government is free to raise the same issue in a later petition following entry of a final judgment."

In 2006 the federal government, under a law passed by Congress, took control of the property and designated it "a historically significant war memorial." Hundreds of plaques memorializing individual veterans, regardless of religion, are affixed to the base of the cross.

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011 ruled that the cross remained an unconstitutional "government endorsement of religion." The court ordered the issue sent back to the district court in San Diego, presumably for an order that would require the removal of the cross.

The legal issues involving the cross have swirled for two decades. In 2008, a U.S. district judge in San Diego had ruled that the cross could remain, but his ruling was appealed to the 9th Circuit.

Jewish war veterans, atheists and the ACLU have sued to have the cross removed from public property.

In response to Monday's denial by the high court, David Loy, legal director of the ACLU chapter in San Diego and Imperial counties, said: "The government undoubtedly should honor the sacrifices of our veterans, but it must do so in a way that pays tribute to all our service members, not just those of a particular faith."

But Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), in urging the Department of Justice to continue the legal fight, said the government should preserve "such a historic memorial that pays tribute to the service and sacrifice of America's veterans."


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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Mt. Soledad cross in San Diego. Credit: Mark Boster /  Los Angeles Times.