Federal Judge Orders Removal of Improper Government Religious Display on Mt. Soledad

SAN DIEGO – A federal judge, the Hon. Larry A. Burns, issued an order from the bench today declaring that the government’s display of a 43-foot Latin cross on Mt. Soledad in California violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

The federal display was challenged in a lawsuit by the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America and several local residents, all of whom were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

“We support the government paying tribute to those who served bravely in our country’s armed forces,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “But we should honor all of our heroes under one flag, not just one particular religious symbol.”

The current cross was erected in La Jolla, California, in 1954 and was dedicated at an Easter Sunday ceremony describing the monument as “a gleaming white symbol of Christianity.” In 2006, the federal government, through an act of Congress, obtained the title to the cross and its surrounding property by eminent domain, and declared the cross to be a national war memorial.

“A national war memorial should stand for all of those who served,” said Norma Chavez-Peterson, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “It is inappropriate and unconstitutional to declare a deeply religious symbol that excludes those outside of that faith as a monument to all veterans.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in 2011 that the cross violated the First Amendment. After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, it was remanded back to federal court where today’s order was issued.

Attorneys on the case include Mach of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief; David Loy of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties; the law firm of WilmerHale; A. Stephen Hut, and James McElroy.

More information on the case can be found at: www.aclu.org/religion-belief/mt-soledad-latin-cross