Judge orders removal of Mt. Soledad cross in La Jolla

SAN DIEGO - A federal judge in San Diego issued an order from the bench Thursday declaring that the government's display of a 43-foot cross atop Mount Soledad in La Jolla violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The federal display was challenged in a 2006 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 and 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 cross was erected 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.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals 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 in San Diego, where today's order was issued.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ordered the cross to be removed within 90 days, but stayed the order until all possible appeals have been exhausted.

Proponents of the cross said they might again petition the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.

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