msnbc.com
updated 11/21/2011 5:48:54 PM ET 2011-11-21T22:48:54

The Marine Corps said Monday it is reviewing whether to remove a cross placed on a Camp Pendleton hilltop earlier this month by Marines honoring four comrades killed in Iraq.

The review came after an atheist group argued that the cross on government land violates the separation of church and state.

Several Marines, as well as the widows and children of two of the fallen Marines, carried the 13-foot-tall cross up to the hilltop on Veterans Day. The did so on their own and without Corps permission.

The cross replaced one that had been there since 2003 until it was destroyed by a brushfire in 2007.

"Camp Pendleton legal authorities are researching and reviewing the issue in order to make a judicious decision," the Marine Corps said in a statement reported by the Los Angeles Times Monday.

"As Marines, we are proud to honor our fallen brothers and are also proud of our extended Marine Corps family," it added. "However, it is important to follow procedure and use appropriate processes for doing this in a correct manner to protect the sentiment from question as well as be good stewards of our taxpayer dollars."

The complaint was lodged by the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

"Posting a Christian cross on federal land is forcing your religion on others," the group said on its Facebook page.

The page has since become a lightning rod for the controversy.

"Marines roll deep and the most dangerous place to be is between a Marine and fallen Marines," posted one person.

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