Judges rule cross at Calif. park unconstitutional
Jan. 4, 2011 04:51 PM
SAN DIEGO - A war memorial cross in a San Diego public park is unconstitutional
because it conveys a message of government endorsement of religion, a federal
appeals court ruled Tuesday in a two decade old case.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the
unanimous decision in the dispute over the 29-foot cross, which was dedicated in
1954 in honor of Korean War veterans.
The court said modifications could be made to make it constitutional, but it
didn't specify what those changes would be.
"In no way is this decision meant to undermine the importance of honoring our
veterans," the three judges said in their ruling. "Indeed, there are countless
ways that we can and should honor them, but without the imprimatur of
U.S. Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said the federal government,
which is defending the cross, was studying Tuesday's ruling and had no comment.
The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based Christian legal group, called the
ruling an insult to troops.
"The memory of those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom shouldn't be
dishonored because the ACLU finds a small number of people who are merely
offended," said Joe Infranco, the group's senior counsel.
The ruling is the latest in a series of court decisions that have deemed the
Mount Soledad cross unconstitutional because it stands on public property.
The legal fight began in 1989 when atheist Philip Paulson sued the city of San
Diego over the cross. Paulson, a Vietnam War veteran, contended that the cross
excludes veterans who aren't Christian. Jewish veterans groups also complained
the cross excluded them.
State and federal judges have ordered the cross removed, saying it represents an
unconstitutional endorsement of one religion. But in 2006, the U.S. Supreme
Court blocked an order that the city take it down that summer, giving lower
courts time to hear appeals.
City officials have argued that the cross is part of a secular war memorial, and
the cross has been embraced by San Diego residents who in 2005 overwhelmingly
approved a measure to preserve it by donating it to the federal government. A
judge declared the measure unconstitutional.
Infranco said Tuesday that no one is harmed by the presence of a cross on a war
"It's tragic that the court chose a twisted and tired interpretation of the
First Amendment over the common sense idea that the families of fallen American
troops should be allowed to honor these heroes as they choose," he said.