Yesterday, a district court ruled that the federal government may no longer display a 43-foot Latin cross on Mt. Soledad in San Diego, California. The Court’s order, which prohibits the government from “displaying or continuing to allow the display of the current cross on federal land as part of the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial,” follows a 2011 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holding that the display violates the fundamental principles underlying the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The ACLU and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties brought this case on behalf of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, the oldest veterans’ organization in the country, and other plaintiffs because we believe that government war memorials should honor veterans of all faiths, as well as those of no faith. The Constitution requires no less, and a gigantic, 43-foot Latin cross doesn’t come close. As the Court of Appeals explained, “The use of such a distinctively Christian symbol to honor all veterans sends a strong message of endorsement and exclusion. It suggests that the government is so connected to a particular religion that it treats that religion’s symbolism as its own, as universal. To many non-Christian veterans, this claim of universality is alienating.”
While some defendants suggested that the cross could be preserved by adding signage disclaiming an endorsement or taking other measures, the district court correctly concluded that removal of the cross “is the only remedy that that the Ninth Circuit conceives will cure the constitutional violation.”
Yesterday’s victory reaffirms that the government should not play favorites with religion. Sacrificing the very constitutional principles that many veterans have risked their lives to defend is no way to pay tribute to our military. It’s time for the government to give up its indefensible defense of the Mt. Soledad cross and embrace a memorial that honors all veterans equally, without regard to faith.