A judge ordered a giant cross to be removed from a San Diego mountain top two years ago, continuing a long-running church and state legal battle in the area. The Senate, however, passed a bill in December that would overturn that decision.
On Dec. 11, 2013, Judge Larry Burns ordered the Mount Soledad Memorial Association to take down a 42-foot tall cross.
Burns said the cross, which sits on public land, is unconstitutional because it gives the appearance of the government endorsing Christianity over other belief systems.
Last year, Congress passed a law that would override the court’s ruling.
The Senate passed a bill on Dec. 12, 2014, that authorized Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to sell the land containing the cross to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, Inc., a private organization.
Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., whose district covers an area east of the site, said he thinks the bill will end the long debate about whether the memorial violates the constitution.
"This is a significant development in the decades-long fight against efforts to dismantle the memorial," Hunter told NBC San Diego. "The assumption remains that legal challenges will continue, but at least now, this one veterans memorial, which is an important piece of the San Diego community, can no longer be perceived as a government endorsement of religion."
Before the federal government bought the land from the city of San Diego in 2006, city officials tried to sell the land to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association on two separate occasions.
Judges shot down the sales because they said that the sales process advanced a religious mission, which violates the California Constitution.
San Diego attorney James McElroy, who represents Vietnam veteran and plaintiff Steve Trunk, said he thinks a settlement could occur if the federal government and private group negotiate who would bear the costs of maintaining the memorial.
"I'm not saying a settlement can happen, but it's at least something worth talking about," McElroy said.
Photo Credit: NBC San Diego