It's been a little while since we've had an update on the Mt. Soledad cross controversy, but today, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is finally hearing oral arguments to decide if this cross is a religious symbol or a generic and secular emblem of death.
It seems like it would be such an obvious answer – the cross represents Christianity!
And that's just what Alex Luchenitser, AU's senior litigation counsel, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"The cross is clearly a religious symbol," he said. "It's the preeminent symbol of Christianity."
AU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America v. City of San Diego back in January, arguing that sectarian symbols generally do not belong on federal land and that using a cross as a war memorial fails to represent all veterans of many different faith perspectives.
The focus of the lawsuit is a Latin cross made of steel-reinforced concrete atop an 822-foot hill in the Mt. Soledad Nature Park in San Diego. It was erected in 1952 when the City of San Diego authorized the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association to build it as a war memorial.
For 20 years, the courts have debated whether the cross can remain. And up until July 2008, every court decision ruling said the symbol shows preferential treatment for Christianity and does not represent all war veterans. Two district and two appellate courts have ordered its removal through the years.
But just like in another cross case that is currently being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court (Salazar v. Buono), the federal government under George W. Bush did all that it could to avoid the courts' orders.
Former President Bush signed into law a measure that gave the federal government ownership of the land under the cross, voiding the orders that the city remove the cross.
Then in 2008, after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the federal government, a district court ruled the cross can stay, buying a Religious Right argument that no other judge had ever fallen for in the past.
U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns said the Latin cross sends a non-religious message of "military service, death and sacrifice." He ruled the cross could remain standing because it is not a religious symbol, but rather a symbol of American patriotism.
This has become a common argument put forth by the Religious Right in order to keep these Christian symbols standing on public lands across the country. Back in early October, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Buono, Justice Antonin Scalia followed the same line of thought.
The justice said claiming the cross is only a religious symbol is an "outrageous conclusion," adding that the cross "is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead."
We know the case at the Supreme Court will come down to a very close vote, and it could go either way. But we have high hopes that the Mt. Soledad case will be an easier decision for the Ninth Circuit.
According to the Union-Tribune, two members of the three-judge panel hearing the case today have written or joined in decisions dealing with crosses on public land, and both times, they concluded crosses on federal land violate the Constitution.
It's taken more than 20 years to resolve this case. We'll keep our fingers crossed that these judges finally bring it to a rightful, and constitutional, conclusion.