NEW YORK (Aug. 30)
A federal district court judge in Washington on Tuesday ordered the removal of a 65-foot illuminated cross that has dominated the night sky over a U.S. Marine base in Hawaii for more than 20 years.
Judge Thomas Hogan’s decision was a victory for the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, which contended in a lawsuit that the cross, as a religious symbol erected on government property and maintained by public funds, violated the constitutional prohibition against government-established religion.
The cross was erected in 1966 for a sunrise Easter service at Camp H.M. Smith on Oahu, not far from Pearl Harbor. Hogan’s decision rejected the government’s argument that the cross had since become a non-sectarian monument to prisoners of war and those listed as missing in action in Southeast Asia.
“The principal symbol of Christianity, this nation’s dominant religion, simply is too laden with religious meaning to be appropriate to a government memorial assertedly free of any religious message,” Hogan said in his decision.
The judge’s decision represents the second time that the cross has been ordered removed from the base. Following complaints by the Hawaiian Jewish community, Navy Judge Advocate General Admiral T.E. Flynn concluded in 1985 that the cross violated the constitution and should be removed.
But Marine Corps Commandant General P.X. Kelley overruled Flynn’s decision in 1986, after an outcry from people living near the base.
Kelley and former Navy Secretary James Webb were named in the suit.
JWV HAILS DECISION
Herbert Greff, national commander of the JWV, hailed the federal court’s decision in a statement, saying those missing in Southeast Asia represent all races and religions.
“Surely America can memorialize these brave souls in a manner which would honor all equally and bring comfort to their loved ones,” he said.
Ronald Koerner, lawyer for the veterans group, said the decision is significant, because it helps define what is appropriate for a war monument.
The government has 60 days in which to appeal the judge’s order. A spokeswoman for the justice Department said government lawyers were reviewing the judge’s decision and would take a few weeks before deciding whether to appeal.