Judge blocks veteran's memorial containing a cross

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. — A federal judge's ruling has blocked a city in Southern California from putting up a memorial for veterans at a stadium because it includes a cross.

Last fall the city of Lake Elsinore had agreed to pay $50,000 for the polished black granite monument which includes a soldier kneeling at a grave with a cross marker.

The American Humanist Association filed suit in May to stop the Lake Elsinore City Council from erecting the monument, arguing that it violates the separation of church and state.

"It is a violation of the First Amendment when a government body unnecessarily chooses a divisively religious means of honoring the country's veterans," William Burgess, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said.

City officials say that the cross is a historical, not religious, illustration of a grave.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson, however, ruled that the memorial was "unmistakably religious."

"The fact that the Latin crosses and Star of David do not dominate Monument 2 cannot take away from the unmistakably religious message they send to any objective viewer," he wrote.

"The Latin crosses and Star of David are immediately noticeable to even the most casual passer-by; they appear on the front of Monument 2," he continued. "In contrast to the concededly non-sectarian images that appear on the front of Monument 2 - the text, the American flag, and the bald eagle - the sectarian symbols are illuminated in white."

Kevin Snider, attorney for Pacific Justice Institute, represented the city in the case.

"We're going to review his opinion to determine what his reasoning is and then we will look at our options as to whether or not we want to proceed in the lower court or immediately take it up on appeal," Snider said.

The case will go to trial Oct.1.