Mount Soledad cross and veterans memorial (

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy intervened in a 17-year battle over a large cross on city property in San Diego, allowing the 29-foot structure to remain until its supporters complete a legal challenge.

As WorldNetDaily reported, U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson ordered the city to remove the 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.”

Kennedy issued a stay, without comment, that stops any legal proceedings while supporters of the cross battle in court.

Last month, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to stay Judge Thompson’s order. The court has scheduled oral arguments on the matter for the week of Oct. 16, weeks after the cross was scheduled to be removed.

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 the special election in which 76 percent chose to preserve the cross. State Court Judge Patricia Cowett, however, ruled the proposition violated the California constitution. Her order is under appeal.

Lawyers for San Diegans for the Mt. Soledad National War Memorial said in their appeal to the Supreme Court that they wanted to avoid the “destruction of this national treasure.”

Last week, former POW and U.S. senator Jeremiah Denton requested that President Bush authorize the federal government to take over the site.

In a letter recently delivered to the president, the war hero requested the federal government exercise its power of eminent domain in order to maintain the land as a national monument.

Over the past month, the president has received more than 450,000 e-mails from various conservative and faith-based organizations to save the cross. The White House has informed a source from a well known pro-family organization who wishes to remain anonymous that it will respond to the requests soon.

Responding to a question from WND last week, presidential press secretary Tony Snow said: “Right now, the president and the administration are actively reviewing both administrative and legislative options for preserving that veterans war memorial.”

Meanwhile, in Congress, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., introduced last week a bill to save the war memorial in its present form.

Hunter said in a statement, the memorial “has been a fixture of our local community for over 50 years, honoring veterans of all wars, including the global war on terrorism.”

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Previous stories:

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Bush seeking reprieve for San Diego cross

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Cross battle goes to Washington

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Judge orders San Diego cross removed

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