A federal appeals court has ruled that a Latin cross on federal land in California violates the separation of church and state.
On June 7, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the cross sitting on Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve near the California-Nevada border violates the First Amendment.
The 9th Circuit\'s ruling in Buono v. Norton affirms a 2003 lower court decision that upheld the American Civil Liberties Union\'s complaint that display of the religious symbol on federal property violated the separation of church and state.
Officials with the Department of Interior appealed the ruling to the 9th Circuit, arguing that ownership of the parcel of land containing the cross would soon be transferred to a private entity, therefore curing the church-state problem. The court said the government\'s arguments were not convincing and could not escape the perception that it was trying to promote Christianity.
The court noted that the federal law allowing for the transfer of land contained a clause that the land may revert to the federal government. Additionally, the court asserted that "the presence of a religious symbol on once-public land that has been transferred into private hands may still" impinge upon the First Amendment principle of church-state separation.
"The Park Service has not opened the cross site to other permanent displays, nor are there other displays, religious or otherwise, in the area," wrote Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski for the panel. "In 1999, the Park Service denied a third-party request to erect a Buddhist stupa near the cross."
A Justice Department spokesman told The Washington Post that a decision on whether to appeal the ruling had not been made.