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Cross opponents back in court

Just when you thought the Mount Soledad cross case was over, a new chapter in the 20-year-old challenge to the constitutionality of the veterans’ memorial being on public land gets written.

It happened last week when opponents of the La Jolla mountaintop cross continued their legal quest to have it removed.

In a 70-page brief, lawyers for the Jewish War Veterans contend U.S. District Judge Larry Burns last July incorrectly ruled that the cross is essentially the centerpiece of a war memorial, not primarily a religious display.

James McElroy, an attorney who represented the late Philip Paulson, a Vietnam War veteran who was the first to challenge the constitutionality of the cross contending it violates the rights of non-Christian veterans, said the reasoning behind the legal challenge to the mountaintop cross hasn’t changed.

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“This is a huge Christian cross and the government is showing preference for Christian veterans, instead of all those veterans who fought and died for our country: That’s what makes it wrong,” said McElroy.

McElroy said there have been 11 separate cases tried nationally in recent years reaffirming the unconstitutionality of placing Christian symbols in national monuments.

“The courts have concluded it’s not wrong for families choosing so to put crosses on gravestones in national cemeteries,” McElroy said. “But the government can’t show preference for one religion over another. Taxpayers should not be paying to promote Christianity.”

Proponents of keeping the memorial cross as it is argue the opposition is grasping at legal straws.

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“I would expect more from the opposition than just regurgitating the same losing arguments,” said Charles LiMandri of The Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm promoting religious freedom of Christians, family values, and the sanctity of human life.

LiMandri said the courts have upheld the existence of Latin crosses on public property in two recent judicial rulings. The U.S. government has operated the half-acre La Jolla site underneath the landmark cross since 2006, when a federal bill signed by President Bush transferred the site from the city of San Diego to the U.S. Department of Defense.

This most recent challenge to the continued presence of the Mt. Soledad cross, both McElroy and LiMandri agree, is likely to take more months, if not years, to work its way through the court system.

“Their (opponents) appeal could take up to two years,” said LiMandri. “If they win at the Ninth Circuit, we’ll appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. That could take as long as five years.”