Posted Dec 16, 2013 06:00 pm CST
A federal judge has ordered the removal of a 29-foot cross on government-owned land in California.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns of San Diego, in a ruling (PDF) Thursday, said the cross violated the First Amendment ban on a government endorsement of religion, according to multiple reports.
Burns said the 29-foot cross atop Mount Soledad must be taken down within 90 days. But he also said he would stay the order if the ruling is appealed, the New York Times reports.
The cross was erected on what was then city property in 1954 as a monument to Korean War veterans. It has been the subject of litigation since 1989, when an atheist and Vietnam War veteran sued the city to have it taken down. In 2006, some local residents and the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America filed another lawsuit for its removal.
The city of San Diego transferred the land on which it sits to the federal government in 2005 in an effort to save the cross, according to the Christian Science Monitor. But the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2011 that the cross was unconstitutional. The decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year declined to hear the case and sent it back to Burns for “final” resolution.
Supporters of the cross expressed disappointment with the ruling.
Bruce Bailey, president of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, told Fox News that the 9th Circuit left Burns “no choice” but to order the cross removed. “However, we are grateful for the judge’s stay that gives us an opportunity to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court,” he added.
Lawyers for the current plaintiffs applauded the decision. “This is a win for religious liberty,” said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Daniel Mach, who argued the case on behalf of the Jewish Veterans of the United States and several other Southern California residents. “The government can and should honor those who served and died for this country, but not by playing favorites with faiths.”