SAN FRANCISCO A cross that stands 8 feet tall in the vast Mojave National Preserve must come down, a federal appeals court ruled in invalidating a congressionally endorsed land exchange that sought to preserve it.
The Christian symbol was built in 1934 by a group of World War I veterans. Congress in 1994 created the national preserve, which put the land under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
It has been at the center of a long-running legal battle, reaching the appeals court three times. It also was the subject of language in a congressional defense-appropriations bill that transferred government ownership of an acre of land to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in an effort to end government sponsorship of religious symbols on public land.
But yesterday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's decision that the land transfer was a sham. The appeals court had ruled before the land transfer that the cross was unconstitutional.
Judge M. Margaret McKeown, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, said that "carving out a tiny parcel of property in the midst of this vast Preserve like a donut hole with the cross atop it will do nothing to minimize the impermissible governmental endorsement" of the religious symbol.
Peter Eliasberg, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said his organization sued to remove the cross because it was clearly a religious item being supported by the federal government.
"I hope this stops the litigation and the waste of taxpayers' money," Eliasberg said. "Then they can build a real war memorial that honors all veterans."
A government attorney did not return telephone calls in time for this article.