The Circuit Court's three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that the memorial cross at Mt. Soledad violates the U.S. Constitution.
Judges for U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decided 3-0 in the case of Trunk v. City of San Diego that the Mt. Soledad cross paying homage to fallen soldiers is unconstitutional.
Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel Joe Infranco labeled the ruling a tragedy.
"It's tragic that the court chose a twisted and tired interpretation of the First Amendment over the common-sense idea that the families of fallen American troops should be allowed to honor these heroes as they choose," he expressed in a statement following yesterday's ruling.
The California war memorial was erected in 1954. The memorial includes a Latin cross and six concentric walls holding black granite plaques engraved with the names and photos of war veterans. It was originally dedicated as a Korean War Veterans Memorial but now also honors U.S. veterans of World War I and World War II.
The memorial's cross has been at the heart of a two-decade-long dispute. The cross is 29-foot tall and stands in La Jolla, Calif.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of San Diego in 1989 to remove the cross. The group's plaintiff, atheist war veteran Philip Paulson, argued that the cross was a religious symbol and that its display on public land was unconstitutional. The Jewish War Veterans has also found fault with the cross's presence and is also suing for its removal.
Prior to this ruling, U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns ruled in 2008 that the cross does not violate the separation of Church and State.
"The court finds the memorial at Mt. Soledad, including its Latin cross, communicates the primarily non-religious messages of military service, death, and sacrifice," Burns wrote in his decision. "As such, despite its location on public land, the memorial is constitutional."
However, on appeal, the judges overturned Burns' ruling. Still, Infranco contends that the cross does not violate the Establishment Clause maintaining a separation between church and state. The cross has the right to stay where it is, he says.
"War heroes have earned the right to be remembered. The memory of those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom shouldn't be dishonored because the ACLU finds a small number of people who are merely offended," he stated.