S.D. Landmark Under Fire Again

    The Mount Soledad cross has come under fire several times over the last two decades from opponents who claim that its placement on federal land violates separation of church and state. (EriK Jepsen/Guardian)

    Last week marked the beginning of a new legal battle over
    the Mount Soledad Cross, which has once again fallen under criticism from
    opponents who claim its presence to be a gross violation of the principle of
    separation of church and state. The cross, which has been the subject of
    numerous legal battles since the 1980s, is located on federal government
    property.

    The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and the
    Jewish War Veterans Association have come together to challenge the presence of
    the cross on government land, stating their case in U.S. District Court last
    week.

    Both groups argue that the cross shows religious favoritism,
    claiming that if the government is to maintain the memorial atop Mount
    Soledad
    — which commemorates
    soldiers lost in the Korean War — it must do so in a secular, religiously
    neutral fashion.

    David Blair-Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego
    and Imperial Counties,
    said the cross’ presence violates the separation between church and state.

    “The ACLU and the Jewish War Veterans Association both
    believe that the display of religious symbols in the private sphere is an
    important and constitutionally protected right,” he said. “However, there is a
    difference between families and religious communities expressing what they believe
    in and the U.S.
    government, who is responsible for equal representation among all its citizens,
    promoting the beliefs of one faith over all others.”

    Cross supporters, in line with U.S. Supreme Court decisions
    made in 2005 which allow for the presence of certain religious symbols if they
    are part of a larger secular purpose, maintain that the cross is merely one
    aspect of a memorial paying honor to those that died during the Korean War.

    Controversy over the cross first arose following a lawsuit
    filed in 1989 by Philip Kevin Paulson, a local San Diego
    resident and Vietnam War veteran. City officials have made numerous attempts to
    display the cross as a war memorial with an overall secular purpose. However,
    following its presence being challenged by Paulson in 1989, the Mount
    Soledad
    cross has witnessed some
    significant changes, including the placement of a plaque at the base of the
    cross denoting it as a war memorial.

    In addition, annual publications of Thomas Brothers Maps
    following 1989 have designated the cross as “Mount Soledad Memorial” as opposed
    to “Mount Soledad Easter Cross” as the company had done since the cross’
    inception in 1954.

    Bill Kellogg, President of the Mount Soledad Memorial
    Association, has advocated the preservation of the cross for several years,
    claiming that the cross is only one aspect of the memorial.

    “The cross on top of Mount
    Soledad
    is more than a religious
    symbol,” Kellogg said. “It is a memorial to the veterans who served and died
    during the Korean War, Christian or not.”

    Kellogg said it is important to include recognized religious
    symbols in monuments, and that the placement of the cross is protected by the
    U.S. Constitution.

    “The symbols chosen to honor our veterans are part of our
    freedom of expression, and that should be shown some tolerance,” he said. “We
    are not upholding one religion over another; rather, we’re simply honoring our
    veterans with religious symbols we are familiar with.”

    Blair-Loy said that despite claims that the cross is a
    memorial to all veterans, it still remains a predominantly religious symbol.

    “Not only is it unconstitutional for the federal government
    to display religious symbols on federal property, but so is it’s obligation to
    maintain such sites using taxpayer dollars,” he said.

    The federal government obtained the cross in 2006 from the
    City of San Diego through statutes
    of eminent domain, with official ownership of the property given to the U.S.
    Department of Defense.

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