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A federal appeals court on Thursday invalidated a land-exchange that sought to preserve an 8-foot tall cross in the Mojave National Preserve. The Christian symbol has been at the center of a long-running legal battle, reaching the appeals court three times. It also was the subject of language inserted in a 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. The VFW said the cross was memorial for World War I veterans.

But the ruling by the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a lower court's ruling that said 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 ACLU, said his organization sued to remove the cross from its remote resting place outside Barstow 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.


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