WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish groups have joined two separate briefs supporting a Jewish veterans group’s challenge to the display of a cross at a San Diego veterans’ memorial.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State was joined by Hadassah, the Interfaith Alliance, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and other groups in asking the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s ruling holding that the 43-foot-tall Mt. Soledad cross in San Diego is a secular war memorial.
And the American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress have joined with other groups to also file a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.
"That the cross is used in a veterans’ memorial here does not make it secular," argues the Americans United brief in Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America v. City of San Diego. "In fact, as a burial marker, the cross has been used almost exclusively for Christian burials in order to convey a sectarian message – that the deceased lived and died as a member of a particular Christian community. And as a monument in a veterans’ memorial, the cross conveys a similar sectarian message: that only fallen Christian soldiers are being remembered. Given the ‘commanding presence’ of the Mt. Soledad cross in relation to the rest of the memorial, the primary message that this cross communicates is religious, not secular."
“Efforts by the U.S. Congress to save the Mount Soledad Cross are in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” said Jeffrey Sinensky, AJC general counsel.
The U.S. Congress passed a resolution in 2006 "providing for the immediate acquisition of the memorial by the United States." Last July, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the cross "communicates the primarily non-religious messages of military service, death and sacrifice."
The history of the cross, as well as statements made by the resolution’s congressional supporters, demonstrate that it is “thinly veiled as a legitimate effort to preserve a secular war memorial,” states the AJC and AJCongress amicus brief. “That legislation has one – and only one – purpose: to save the cross.”
Americans United noted that this case deals only with the display of a religious symbol on public property owned by the government, and would not affect crosses on the graves of veterans in places such as Arlington National Cemetary.