Mt. Soledad cross and veterans memorial above San Diego (

A citizens group has launched an appeal to halt a judge’s order to remove the Mount Soledad cross in Southern California.

As WorldNetDaily reported, on May 3 U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson ordered the city of San Diego to remove the mountain-top cross within 90 days or face a fine of $5,000 a day.

Thompson ruled in 1991 the cross violates the so-called “separation of church and state,” but the case has remained in courts and become an issue of public policy.

A group formed last year to save the cross, San Diegans for the Mt. Soledad National War Memorial, filed papers in the U.S. District Court in San Diego asking to intervene in the case, the first step in an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The San Diego City Council is scheduled to vote next week on whether it will appeal the order, scheduled to be carried out in August.

The citizens group is represented by the Thomas More Law Center, which says it has “pledged to do whatever we can to save” the cross.

“The memorial represents the sacrifices our veterans and their families have made and the gratitude that we, as a community and a nation, have for them,” said Charles LiMandri, West Coast regional director for the Law Center. “They fought hard for our freedoms. We will fight hard to preserve them.”

The battle began in 1989 when Phillip Paulsen, an atheist, filed suit, and a court ordered the city to remove the cross. In 1998, the city sold the property to the Mt. Soledad War Memorial Association, which again was challenged in court. The sale originally was upheld but later ruled unconstitutional by the full panel of the 9th Circuit and remanded back to district court to work out a remedy.

LiMandri says the Law Center is seeking a stay of the judge’s order pending resolution of a state court case that could render the order void.

The state case addresses the constitutionality of a voter proposition, which transfers the memorial and the property to the federal government.

San Diegans for the Mt. Soledad National War Memorial organized a petition drive for the special election last July in which 76 percent of voters favored the transfer.

A state court judge, however, claimed the proposition violated the California Constitution.

LiMandri explained that the outcome of the state case likely will impact the federal case because the federal judge’s order to the city of San Diego was based on state law. Once Proposition A takes effect, the property will belong exclusively to the federal government.

LiMandri warns that unless the judge’s order is reversed or stayed by the 9th Circuit, San Diego will be required to take down the cross in August.

Meanwhile, >the commander of the American Legion has joined those calling for President Bush to take action to save the cross.

In a letter to the president, National Commander Thomas L. Bock wrote, “We are particularly concerned in this case that a dangerous precedent could be set that would endanger veterans memorials across America, perhaps even the 9,000 crosses that mark the final resting places of our World War II heroes at Normandy Beach.”

“The crosses and Stars of David that mark the graves and honor the sacrifices of our fallen heroes are sacred ground to Americans,” wrote Bock, who represents 2.7 million veterans. “As a grateful nation, we must ensure that their memory will never be dishonored by those who would seek to remove them.”

The American Family Association is asking citizens to send an e-mail to the president to effectively take “the case out of Judge Thompson’s hands” by signing an executive order transferring the land to the National Park Service.

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