A cross in San Diego has been under debate for the past two decades because it sits on federal land at a Korean War veterans memorial. Thursday, the cross was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge for violating the First Amendment's separation of church and state and the establishment clause, which bans the preference of one religion over another.
Since 1989, the cross has been the subjected of litigation, when two veterans sued. In response to the threat of it being taken down under a court order, the land the cross sits on was transferred from the city of San Diego to the federal government in 2005. The cross was challenged again in 2006 under a new lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union who represented the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America and several members of the neighborhood.
"It is unfortunate that the Ninth Circuit left the judge no choice but to order the tearing down of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross," Bruce Bailey, president of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, told Fox News on Thursday. "However, we are grateful for the judge's stay that gives us an opportunity to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court."
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals first ruled in 2011 that the cross was unlawful. When the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case in 2012, it was sent to the San Diego federal court, which issued Thursday's decision.
The case could be appealed by the Department of Justice, but the ruling states the cross must be removed within 90 days.
"We support the government paying tribute to those who served bravely in our country's armed forces," said the director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief Daniel Mach in a press release Thursday. "But we should honor all of our heroes under one flag, not just one particular religious symbol."
Congressman Darrell Issa, whose district includes the nearby region, expressed his support for the cross after the court ruling.
"Our founding fathers did not seek to scrub all religious expression from public spaces, but rather sought to create a government and a society that respected the practice of all religions," Issa said. "The Mount Soledad War Memorial and the landmark cross honor the veterans in the same vein as crosses that mark the grave sites of soldiers entombed at Arlington National Cemetery and other U.S. veterans cemeteries worldwide."