Federal District Court Judge Larry Alan Burns, ruled July 29th that the giant cross atop Mount Soledad, the center piece of a national veterans’ memorial and subject of a 20 year legal battle, can stay as it is where it is.
Judge Burns wrote: “The Court finds the memorial at Mt. Soledad, including its Latin cross, communicates the primarily non-religious messages of military service, death and sacrifice.” Judge Burns, in his ruling, specifically cited the brief supporting the Mt. Soledad Cross filed by the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Click here to read ruling).
The Law Center’s friend of the court brief was filed on behalf of the families of Marine Majors Michael D. Martino and Gerald Bloomfield, III, both of whom were killed in combat in Iraq on November 2, 2005 when their attack helicopter was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Their memories are now preserved by plaques located under the Mt. Soledad Cross, which were dedicated in their honor by their Marine Squadron. (Click here to see brief.)
The Law Center filed its brief on behalf of Sybil and Robert Martino-parents of Major Martino-and Julie Bloomfield-spouse of Major Bloomfield. The brief contains several moving photographs of family members at the grave site at Arlington National Cemetery and at the Mt. Soledad Memorial. (Click here to see photographs.)
Richard Thompson, the President and Chief Counsel for the Law Center, commented, “This is a wonderful victory, not only for the families of Majors Martino and Bloomfield who can have some comfort knowing that the memories of their loved ones are preserved under the Cross, but for all Americans who care about our young men and women who have sacrificed their lives in defense of our country. Sadly, I fully expect the ACLU attorneys to appeal this decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. So this fight is not over.”
In May 2006, Major Martino and Major Bloomfield’s unit, which had recently returned from Iraq, sponsored a plaque dedication ceremony at the memorial to commemorate the fallen Marines’ heroic service and to provide a place to honor them. Over three hundred Marines stood in line for over three hours to meet the Marines’ families and to pay respect for their fallen comrades.
The Law Center stepped in and defended the Cross just weeks before it was to be taken down pursuant to an agreement between the City of San Diego and a self-proclaimed atheist who was seeking to remove it. From that point on, the Law Center, with assistance from its West Coast Regional Director, Charles LiMandri, has played a significant role in defending the Cross.
The Law Center initially prevailed in petitioning Justice Anthony Kennedy to enjoin the City of San Diego from tearing the Cross down during and until our appeals were complete. The Law Center also launched a highly successful petition drive asking the President to save the Cross. Ultimately the Law Center prevailed in both the state and federal courts by successfully petitioning the federal government to transfer the cross from city to federal property, thereby rendering a district court’s order to remove the cross moot.
However, the ACLU soon thereafter filed a new lawsuit, this time against the federal government, claiming the transfer was improper and that the display of the memorial cross as part of this veterans’ memorial violated the so-called “wall of separation of church and state.” Federal government lawyers are defending the cross in this new lawsuit. However, the Law Center is supporting their efforts by adding a new perspective to the legal arguments supporting the cross─the importance of the cross to the surviving family members.
Over 2,000 plaques honoring individuals or groups of veterans are displayed at the memorial. Some of the plaques contain Stars of David, honoring Jewish veterans. There is also a large American flag flying at the base of the memorial. In a letter to the private association that maintains the memorial, President Bush stated, “Mount Soledad becomes a place to reflect on our past, be inspired by true patriots, and offer war veterans our heartfelt gratitude for the freedom we all enjoy today.”