(Photo: The Liberty Institute)
President Barack Obama's Justice Department has filed a legal brief in support of a 29-foot tall cross that has been on display on public property in California for decades.
Filed by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., the brief called for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider their decision overturning a lower court ruling that the Cross at Mt. Soledad War Memorial near San Diego was constitutional.
Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute director of litigation, welcomed the brief. The Liberty Institute, along with members of Congress and others have supported the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association and their cross, which was erected in the 1950s.
"It is a logical next step for the Justice Department to continue to do its duty and defend the memorial pursuant to the wishes of Congress," said Sasser to The Christian Post.
The brief argued that the court's application of the Establishment Clause was problematic, as the First Amendment does not call for censorship of a memorial on public property.
"The decision below, if permitted to stand, calls for the government to tear down a memorial cross that has stood for 58 years as a tribute to fallen service members. Nothing in the Establishment Clause compels that result," wrote Verrilli.
"What matters for purposes of the Establishment Clause is the government's conduct, and the government's acquisition and management of the Memorial have been secular rather than religious in nature."
In 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of Jewish War Veterans of the USA and some residents of San Diego who took issue with the cross display.
Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, told CP that his organization was expecting the federal government to file this brief.
"The ACLU and our veteran plaintiffs firmly support the government's efforts to honor the service of those who fought and died for this country. But there are many ways to do that without playing favorites with religion," said Mach.
"We continue to believe the court of appeals got it right, and there's reason for the Supreme Court to take this case."
Sasser of the Liberty Institute noted that the memorial cross has the support of most of the local San Diego veterans, Christian and Jewish.
"The memorial itself includes a number of plaques placed by Jewish veterans and their families. These individual memorials are next to the cross and have Stars of David etched on them," said Sasser.
"If those Jewish veterans who are most intimately familiar with the memorial and the community are proud of the memorial and standing up to defend it … then it is hard to imagine why anyone else would have a problem with the memorial."
According to Sasser, part of this support from the Jewish veteran community includes one of the past leaders of the Jewish War Veterans organization.