War memorial cross at park ruled illegal

Associated Press photo

Rev. John Fredericksen of Orlando, Fla., takes a picture in front of the war memorial cross on Mount Soledad in San Diego on Tuesday.

January 5, 2011 - Updated: January 6, 5:26 p.m.

SAN DIEGO – A war memorial cross in a San Diego public park is unconstitutional because it conveys a message of government endorsement of religion, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in a two decade old case.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the unanimous decision in the dispute over the 29-foot cross, which was dedicated in 1954 in honor of Korean War veterans.

The court said modifications could be made to make it constitutional, but it didn’t specify what those changes would be.

Federal courts are reviewing several cases of crosses on public lands being challenged as unconstitutional, including a cross erected on a remote Mojave Desert outcropping to honor American war dead.

U.S. Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said the federal government, which is defending the San Diego cross, is studying the ruling and had no comment.

Gina Coburn, spokeswoman for the San Diego city attorney’s office, which was once a defendant in the case, said the cross will have to be removed from Mount Soledad unless a full panel of 9th Circuit judges reverses Tuesday’s decision or the Supreme Court agrees to rule on it.

The American Center for Law and Justice, an evangelical Christian legal group which has fought to preserve the cross, called it “a judicial slap in the face” to military veterans and said they planned to ask the Supreme Court to intervene.

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