Mount Soledad cross and veterans memorial above San Diego (

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to stay a federal judge’s order to remove the Mount Soledad Cross, which for decades has commemorated fallen American soldiers buried there.

As WorldNetDaily reported, U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson ordered the city of San Diego to remove the 43-foot structure by Aug. 1 or face a fine of $5,000 a day. Thompson ruled the cross unconstitutional in 1991, but the case has remained in courts and become an issue of public policy.

The dispute was started by an atheist charging the cross – the centerpiece of a national war-veterans memorial – violates the so-called “separation of church and state.”

In its decision, however, the 9th Circuit scheduled oral arguments on the matter for the week of Oct. 16, weeks after the Cross is to be removed, noted the Thomas More Law Center, a national public-interest law firm that has battled to save the cross since 2004.

Richard Thompson, the Law Center’s president and chief counsel, commented on the recent order: “It is an outrage and insult not only to Christians, but people of all faiths, that this memorial site to our veterans and fallen war heroes would be desecrated by removal of a universally recognized symbol of sacrifice just because one atheist was upset about it.”

Thompson says a quick solution would be for the federal government to step in and take the land under its power of eminent domain, but “so far they have remained silent.”

Rob Muise, a Law Center trial counsel who has authored many of the pleadings in the case, said further action will be taken to preserve the cross.

“Friends, comrades, and family members of thousands of our fallen veterans have chosen the Mt. Soledad memorial as a place to honor and remember their fallen heroes,” he said. “As a former Marine officer and veteran of the first Persian Gulf War, I am sickened by the thought of the pain that these court decisions must be causing for these grieving families. Our veterans deserve better than this.”

In 2004, Congress paved the way for the cross to be preserved by designating the structure and the land on which it stands a national veterans memorial. The congressional action authorized the Department of the Interior to accept the property as a donation, to be administered under the National Park System.

Despite widespread support, however, the San Diego City Council declined to make the donation, prompting formation of a grass roots organization, “San Diegans for the Mt Soledad War Memorial,” headed by Jewish businessman Philip Thalheimer.

The group led a petition drive, obtaining more than 100,000 signatures calling on the council to reverse its decision. The council put the question to voters in a special election in which 76 percent chose to preserve the cross. State Court Judge Patricia Cowett, however, ruled proposition violated the California constitution. Her order is under appeal.

The American Family Association has launched a campaign asking citizens to send an e-mail to President Bush 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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