A veterans association plans to fight a federal judge's order to tear down a massive cross overlooking San Diego as part of a war memorial, a lawyer for the group said on Friday.
Attorney Jeff Mateer said he hoped the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year declined to intervene in the 25-year legal battle, will step in now that there has been an order to dismantle the cross, and rule for his clients, Reuters reported.
"We are definitely appealing and are committed to preserving this veteran's memorial the way it was intended to be, which includes a cross," said Mateer, general counsel for the Liberty Institute, which is representing the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Association in the case. "The Association is committed to defending this until there is a U.S. Supreme Court decision."
Located between the Pacific Ocean and a major interstate highway, the cross is surrounded by walls displaying granite plaques that commemorate veterans or veterans' groups, according to Reuters.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ruled on Thursday that the 43-foot-tall (13-meter) cross, a local landmark that has stood atop Mount Soledad in San Diego since 1954, must be taken down because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found it violated a constitutional ban on government endorsement of religion.
In his ruling, Burns said he disagreed with the Ninth Circuit but couldn't do anything about it.
According to Reuters, Daniel Mach, director of American Civil Liberties Union's program on freedom of religion and belief who argued the matter for the plaintiffs, hailed Burns' ruling as a "victory for religious liberty."
"We 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," Mach said.
The Supreme Court declined to review the case in 2012 on the grounds that there hadn't been a final order issued to remove the cross, Mateer said.
But in a similar case involving a cross put up in the Mojave Desert to honor veterans of World War One, the justices ruled that such a memorial did not represent government endorsement of religion, Reuters reported.
"What we say is that if you accept the ACLU's argument in the Mount Soledad case, you are jeopardizing hundreds of veterans memorials across the country, including those at Arlington National Cemetery," Mateer said.
The Mount Soledad monument, which replaced an earlier cross erected on the same spot in 1913, has been the subject of litigation since 1989, when two veterans sued San Diego to get it off city land.