The past few years we have seen a few court cases about the separation of church and state in the news. Like the 10 Commandments decisions in June, the Pledge case being tossed out on a technicality, and Judge Moore’s rock-o-commandments in Alabama, usually these cases glow white hot, a decision is made, and the parties abide by the ruling and move on.
There is one case that is has been in the courts since 1989, where several decisions have been made, and one of the parties has pulled every legal trick in the book to keep from having to abide by the court’s decision.
It is the case of the Easter Cross atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego California.
A cross has been on Mt. Soledad since 1913. The current 44 foot version was erected by a private group in 1954. The problem is the cross is in a park owned and maintained by the City of San Diego.
In 1989, Philip Paulson and Howard Kreisner filed suit in Federal court to have the cross moved off public land. In 1991, Judge Gordon Thompson, Jr., a judge for the US Southern District of California, ruled for the plaintiffs. He said the cross violated not only the US Constitution but the California state constitution. The judge ordered the city to remedy the violation.
Naturally, the city appealed. In 1992, they also tried to subvert the ruling by selling the small plot of land under the cross to the private Mt. Soledad Memorial Association without any competitive bidding. Judge Thompson ruled the sale a sham and ordered the city to comply with the original ruling.
Paulson, who never wanted the cross dismantled, even negotiated a home for the cross at a nearby church, but the city ignored the offer and continued to appeal the case.
In 1994, the city appealed to the US Supreme Court but the appeal was rejected. By then 44 Federal judges had ruled against the City of San Diego.
Most rational people would just move on and accept the ruling. But we are talking about a religious symbol and those symbols just seem to make people crazy.
In another effort to subvert the ruling, granite walls with tributes to fallen soldiers from San Diego was added around the cross in 2000 and in 2004 a plan was hatched to transfer the “veteran’s memorial” to the National Park Service. Supporters of the cross figure that if the Federal government has it then the cross won’t have to be moved.
In July of 2005, voters passed Proposition A that would allow the city to transfer the cross to the Federal government.
The case which has been going on for 16 years is still not over with the vote. The courts will now review if the vote was Constitutional and if the vote remedies the violation.
Supporters think it does.
Joshua Gross, a spokesman for San Diegans for the Mount Soledad National War Memorial, said support at the polls could influence the judge.
“A judge is always going to be inclined to follow the will of the people, the will of the voters,” Gross said. “The higher that number, the more inclined they’ll be. That’s just logical.”
But that isn’t true.
When Colorado passed a amendment to their constitution stripping civil rights protection from gays, the US Supreme Court ruled against it.
Civil Rights are not open to popular vote nor should they be. To do so is simply un-American. As Supreme Court Justice O’Connor said in the recent Kentucky 10 Commandments case:
But the goal of the Clauses is clear: to carry out the Founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society. By enforcing the Clauses, we have kept religion a matter for the individual conscience, not for the prosecutor or bureaucrat…. [Government] may not prefer one religion over another or promote religion over non belief…. It is true that many Americans find the Commandments in accord with their personal beliefs. But we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment.
The city and supporters of the cross need a reality check. I wonder sometimes what good could be accomplished if the same energy expended to save a religious symbol was channeled into eliminating hunger, poverty, or unemployment. We could have a much better world, better than some old religious symbol could ever make happen.
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