Calif. war memorial cross ruled unconstitutional

January 5, 2011

WASHINGTON (RNS) A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday (Jan. 4) a
veterans' memorial featuring a 43-foot cross on California's Mount
Soledad is unconstitutional.


"The use of such a distinctively Christian symbol to honor all
veterans sends a strong message of endorsement and exclusion," wrote
Judge M. Margaret McKeown for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


"It suggests that the government is so connected to a particular
religion that it treats that religion's symbolism as its own, as
universal."


The decision that the memorial in La Jolla, Calif., violates the
Establishment Clause reverses a lower court decision but does not
determine what will happen to the cross that has been the dominant
feature of the monument since it was erected in 1913.


"This result does not mean that the memorial could not be modified
to pass constitutional muster nor does it mean that no cross can be part
of this veterans' memorial," McKeown concluded.


The case has wound through the courts for two decades.


"We are grateful to the Ninth Circuit for its recognition that the
Establishment Clause of the First Amendment affirms the contribution of
diversity in American democracy without pre-eminence to any single
religion," said Robert M. Zweiman, past national commander of the Jewish
War Veterans of the USA, which worked with the American Civil Liberties
Union to challenge the memorial.


Legal groups that supported the memorial, including Liberty
Institute and the American Center for Law and Justice, called the
decision a "slap in the face" to military veterans.


A second case involving a controversial monument in Southern
California also remains in the courts.


Last April, the U.S. Supreme Court permitted a war memorial cross to
remain at the Mojave National Preserve and told a lower court to further
consider a congressionally approved transfer of the cross to private
land.