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The Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal group that has fought to keep the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, can’t become a defendant in the latest legal wrangling over the fate of the Mount Soledad Cross, according to a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz.

Last month, PJI asked Moskowitz to allow it to join the city of San Diego and the federal government as defendants in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and Philip Paulson, a local atheist and Vietnam War veteran.

Paulson and the ACLU are challenging the constitutionality of the presence of the cross on government land as well as the recent transfer of ownership of the cross and surrounding property from the city to the federal government.

All of the parties involved in the case asked Moskowitz to deny the institute’s request. Here’s what the judge wrote in his decision:

PJI takes the position that the religious icons included in the Mt. Soledad War Memorial are “invaluable and unique expressions of our nation’s history and heritage” and that the removal of these religious icons from these types of public war memorials would “have a serious, detrimental effect on Americans’ awareness and appreciation of our nation’s religious heritage.” PJI fears that its mission to defend “expressions of religious heritage against misuse of the Establishment Clause” would be severely hindered if the Court found in favor of Plaintiffs.

Although PJI’s interest in the case is undoubtedly genuine, it falls short of a “significantly protectable” interest. PJI does not have any property interest in the Memorial. PJI’s ideological interest is no greater than that of other religious organizations, public interest groups, and private citizens who feel strongly about the issues in this case.

DANIEL STRUMPF

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