(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court Monday blocked the removal of the Mount Soledad cross in San Diego, Calif., while legal appeals progress through lower federal courts. The decision came less than a week after the Thomas More Law Center requested a stay and with less than a month remaining before officials would either have to remove the cross or face daily fines.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), praised the court's decision to intervene in the 17-year-old case.
"This is a major victory for the City of San Diego and the hundreds of thousands of people across America who support this long-standing war memorial," Sekulow said in a statement.
"This action by the high court sends a powerful message to the lower courts - that a removal order was premature - that there are critical legal issues that need to be litigated before any action can be taken to remove this cross," Sekulow added.
Justice Anthony Kennedy issued the temporary stay halting the removal of the Mount Soledad cross while legal appeals continue in San Diego.
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, in May 2006 Federal District Court Judge George Thompson had issued an order to remove the cross by August 1 or face a $5,000-a-day fine.
The American Civil Liberties Union argues that allowing monuments like the 29-foot-tall cross to remain in a public park is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.
"They are prominent features atop hillsides in publicly-owned parks," Linda Hills, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, told the San Diego Union Tribune in 1998.
"Their Christian import is clear and has been acknowledged by the courts. Their maintenance by the City and County, respectively, is tantamount to a governmental endorsement of Christianity," Hills added.
San Diego attorney James McElroy, representing atheist Philip Paulson, who first sued to have the cross removed in 1989, described the decision as merely a "hold-in-place" measure, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"Its practical effect is not much," McElroy was quoted as saying. "It's like he's saying, 'We got your briefs, you will be hearing from us.'"
Sekulow, however, remained optimistic about the Supreme Court's intervention.
"This important legal development will not only keep the cross in place, but will energize the legal battle ahead to preserve this cross," he said. "It's our hope that San Diego ultimately will succeed in the appeals process and we remain committed to standing with them - and supporting the legal effort - every step of the way. This case is far from over."
The ACLU did not return phone calls seeking comment on the stay.
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