The Supreme Court intervened Monday to save a large cross on city property in southern California.
A lower court judge had ordered the city of San Diego to remove the cross or be fined $5,000 a day.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, acting for the high court, issued a stay while supporters of the cross continue their legal fight.
National treasure or religion endorsement
Lawyers for San Diegans for the Mt. Soledad National War Memorial said in an appeal that they wanted to avoid the "destruction of this national treasure." And attorneys for the city said the cross was part of a broader memorial that was important to the community.
The 29-foot cross, on San Diego property, sits atop Mount Soledad. A judge declared it was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
The cross, which has been in place for decades, was contested by Philip Paulson, a Vietnam veteran and atheist.
Three years ago, the Supreme Court had refused to get involved in the long-running dispute between Paulson and the city.
Kennedy granted the stay to the city and the cross' supporters without comment pending a further order from him or the entire court.
The cross was dedicated in 1954 as a memorial to Korean War veterans, and a private association maintains a veterans memorial on the land surrounding it.
Mayor Jerry Sanders has argued that the cross, sitting atop Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, is an integral part of the memorial and deserves the same exemptions to government-maintained religious symbols as those granted to other war monuments.
In May, U.S. District Court Judge Gordon Thompson, Jr., ordered the city to take down the 29-foot cross before Aug. 2 or pay daily fines of $5,000.
Thompson's ruling, which he described as "long overdue," found the cross to be an unconstitutional display of government preference of one religion over another.
Last year, San Diego voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot proposition to transfer the land beneath the cross to the federal government. The measure was designed to absolve the city of responsibility for the cross under the existing lawsuit. But a California Superior Court judge found the proposition to be unconstitutional.