Mount Soledad Cross Controversy: Congress May Soon Decide Memorial’s Fate

The Mount Soledad cross has been a subject of some contention for a quarter of a century, but the long battle, and litigation, may at last be nearing an end. A vote in the Senate may soon decide whether the cross will stay in its place atop Mount Soledad in San Diego.

According to the L.A. Times, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case for the Mount Soledad cross this summer, leaving an appellate court to either reverse or uphold the decision saying that the cross must go. That decision, made a year ago, included an order to remove the cross within 90 days, but also placed a stay on the decision, allowing those who wanted to keep the cross in place to appeal.

Now, the Mount Soledad cross has been slipped into a Defense Funding bill, and is expected to pass. The Senate will take up the bill next week, according to CBS, and will likely pass it, including the portion that oddly attaches the religious symbol to funding the Department of Defense.

If the Senate does pass the bill, the Mount Soledad cross will continue to stand, and will be completely within legal rights, because the land on which it stands will be sold to a private group. Though courts have agreed that the cross may not stand on public property, on private property it would no longer be controversial or problematic.

The original complainant about the cross, Phil Paulson, was himself a Vietnam veteran. In 2006, knowing he had cancer and only months to live, he contacted another Vietnam vet and asked him to take up the case against the cross. That veteran, Steve Trunk, has been carrying on the litigation since.

In 2011, accepting an award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation for his work in secularism, Trunk spoke about the Mount Soledad cross case.

This is not so much about how the existence of a cross on a mountaintop harms one particular individual or a group. It is about the harm done to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of California by the unconstitutional and conspiratorial actions of public officials and legislators who enacted a law with the express purpose of maintaining a Christian symbol. In other words, Congress plainly made a law respecting the establishment of religion and in so doing violated my First Amendment rights.

He goes on to explain his goal.

[W]hat I, and the rest of the people involved in the lawsuit, want is to move the cross from public land and quit using the sacrifice and memory of veterans to advertise your religion.

Soon, he may have part of that wish. Though the Mount Soledad cross will continue to be held as a memorial for veterans, it will do so from privately held, rather than government-owned, land.

[photo credit: San Diego Shooter]