The United States Supreme Court is awfully busy this week. Yesterday, they struck down mandatory life terms for juveniles, struck down key parts of the Arizona immigration law, declined to revisit its Citizens United decision and on Thursday, is expected to make a ruling on President Obama’s health care plan. But another case the highest court in the land declined to consider, affects many members of the United States military and potentially millions of others.
In what could be called a victory for atheists, the Supreme Court rejected the Obama Administration’s appeal to preserve the Christian cross at a veteran’s memorial on federal property at Mount Soledad, just north of San Diego, California.
The cross was first built in 1913, but didn’t generate much controversy until decades later, after it became a war memorial in the 1970s. In 1989, a Vietnam War veteran and atheist sued the City of San Diego over the memorial cross, arguing that the religious symbol did not honor other veterans who weren’t Christian. A Jewish veterans group followed the lead of Philip K. Paulson and joined the lawsuit. In 1991, the United States District Court for the Southern District of California ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Since then, other state and federal courts have agreed that the presence of a Christian cross violated the California Constitution and First Amendment Rights of the United States Constitution.
Since the initial ruling, the courts ruled that the City of San Diego must take down the cross but in 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the order. But yesterday’s decision in Washington D.C. means that the case will go back to the lower court. Efforts to try to sell the public property in which the cross resides have been blocked by the courts although this notion seems to be the best alternative.
However in yesterday’s ruling, Supreme Court Justice said that “no final judgment has been rendered and remains unclear precisely what action the Federal Government will take. Our denial, of course, does not amount to a ruling on the merits, and the Federal Government is free to raise the same issue in a later petition following entry of a final judgment.”
What happens now is still yet unclear but the American Civil Liberties Union, which supported Phillip K. Paulson’s lawsuit, may be targeting other veterans memorials across the country.