WASHINGTON -- Some legal experts believe the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that a war memorial cross may remain on federal land in the middle of California's Mojave desert may have set a precedent.
On Wednesday, the high court ruled the display of the cross is not automatically an unconstitutional mixing of church and state.
The case is important because it gives Americans a glimpse of how future courts will rule on religious issues.
Alito: Cross Seen by More Snakes than People
In his opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that until this case the cross was likely seen by more rattlesnakes than people.
The symbol had been covered up while a lawsuit against it made its way to the Supreme Court. By a 5-4 vote, the justices refused to order its removal.
"The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgement of religion's role in society," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.
"It is a good day for people who support the cross and understand the importance of these monuments," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice.
The cross was erected 76 years ago by the Veterans of Foreign Wars as a memorial to soldiers killed in World War I.
Some critics say Wednesday's ruling is an example of the government endorsing religion.
"This is one more example of a bad trend where the Supreme Court doesn't seem to care about religious minorities and non-believers," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In his opinion, Justice Kennedy admitted the cross is more than a religious symbol.
"The monument "evokes thousands of small crosses" in cemeteries marking the graves of fallen American troops," Kennedy wrote.
A Court Precedent?
The court's ruling also gave Americans a look at how Justice Sonya Sotomayor may rule in future cases concerning government and religion, including the recent federal ruling that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.
"Now we've seen she's joining that liberal block pretty firmly, which is against any kind of religious display or any kind of religious language in the public square," Sekulow said.
Although the decision was narrow, it's a good indication of how justices will rule in future cases involving religious monuments on public property.