WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court ruled Jan. 4 a veterans’
memorial featuring a 43-foot cross on California’s Mount Soledad is
“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
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
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