The land under the long-contested Mt. Soledad veterans memorial cross near San Diego now belongs to a private foundation, and the monument will remain in place.
It means that other veterans’ memorials around the nation with a spiritual dimension also are safer legal ground.
“Now the land has been sold to our client,” said Hiram Sasser, of Liberty Institute, which announced Tuesday the completion of a land deal to end the challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The target of lawsuits since 1989, the most recent case, filed in 2006, sought the destruction of the cross because someone found it offensive.
“Our clients are very happy to be the owners of the memorial,” Sasser told WND.
The site honors veterans of American military conflicts going back to the Revolutionary War, with a focus on the Korean War.
Now, Sasser confirmed, the federal government has sold the land holding the memorial to the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, representing the organizers who built it.
“The sale of the memorial and its surrounding land ends a legal dispute regarding the constitutionality of the memorial on government land,” Liberty Institute reported.
“Today’s actions will ensure that the memorial will continue to stand in honor of our veterans for decades to come. This is a great victory for the veterans who originally placed this memorial and the Korean War veterans the memorial honors. We thank our lead counsel, Allyson Ho, and her team at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, who worked tirelessly to defend the memorial, leading to this ultimate victory,” Sasser said.
The case is significant, Liberty Institute said, because the ACLU complained the cross violated the “separation of church and state. If that argument had prevailed, other sites could have been affected, including monuments at Arlington National Cemetery.
“If the ACLU can force the government to tear down the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial, where will they stop? What will happen to the 20-foot Canadian Cross of Sacrifice or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery?” Liberty asked.
The memorial features a 29-foot Latin cross surrounded by six walls that display the photos, names and diverse religious symbols of veterans.
In January 2011, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the cross was unconstitutional, but the cased bounced back and forth between the 9th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court for a time.
The ACLU wanted to remove the association supporting the memorial from the case and have the cross torn down.
The defense of the cross has been supported by the attorneys general of 19 states, the American Legion, Ronald Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese, members of Congress and veterans.
It was headed back to the appeals court when the sale of the memorial was announced Tuesday, ending the legal dispute.
Details of the purchase were not available.
“While we celebrate this victory, the work is not over in protecting other veterans memorials from legal attacks by organizations opposed to religious imagery on public land,” Liberty Institute said
Liberty Institute said it is representing the American Legion in a court battle to save the historic Bladensburg, Maryland, World War I Veterans Memorial, which lawyers for the American Humanist Association are trying to tear down.
The organization previously represented the Veterans of Foreign Wars to prevent the ACLU from tearing down the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Cross in the precedent-setting Supreme Court case Salazar v. Buono.
In the Mt. Soledad case, the cross has been ordered to be left alone and then torn down. It’s been ruled constitutional and unconstitutional.
Lawyers defending the cross argued the law prevents government from coercing people into religion, but it does not ban “merely offending some individuals.”
The case began in 1989 when an atheist claimed the very existence of the cross made him uncomfortable.
Three years ago, in a brief, the Alliance Defending Freedom argued the plaintiffs’ standing “rests on subjective feelings of offense.”
“In this case, the allegations of lead plaintiff, Mr. Steve Trunk, typify those of offended observers nationwide who recoil at any employment of religious symbolism by the state,” ADF said. “Mr. Trunk’s declaration states, for example, that the cross located at the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial causes him to subjectively ‘feel uncomfortable, offended, disrespected and like a second class citizen.'”
The brief continued, “Offended observers have no such direct stake and the psychological harm to which they lay claim pales in comparison to that caused by the demolition of public memorials dedicated to those who gave their last full measure of devotion to our nation.”