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January 12, 2009

Last week, the ACLU filed a brief in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of our clients, the Jewish War Veterans of America, against the City of San Diego in our Soledad Cross case. We lost the first go-round with this case in district court, when Judge Larry Burns ruled — erroneously, we believe — that the cross is not a religious symbol, and is therefore not unconstitutionally sitting on a federally war memorial. Burns said in his decision that the cross “communicates the primarily nonreligious messages of military service, death and sacrifice.”

We’re scratching our heads too. Many Christians might be offended that a federal judge is saying that one of the principal symbols — for many the ultimate symbol — of their religion is “not religious.”

In our brief, we argue that allowing a Christian cross — namely a Latin cross which actually, technically represents only a percentage of Christians — to sit on government-owned property is a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause (the part that states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”).

Back in September, the L.A. Times queried religious leaders whether or not they agreed with Burns’ decision that a cross was not a religious symbol. We agree with Varun Soni, a Hindu, lawyer and dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California, who told the Times:

[M]any non-Christian faith practitioners in the U.S. do not feel that the cross culturally represents them as Americans, regardless of its context or venue…I believe…the Mount Soledad case… should now be analyzed through interfaith and multi-faith lenses.

This is what we ask the 9th Circuit to do. Put yourself in the shoes of a non-Christian, and see the Soledad cross for what it is — a symbol of Christianity standing on taxpayer-funded land in violation of the First Amendment — and nothing else.

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