Thursday, May 04, 2006

San Diego ordered to take down giant cross

A cross that has stood atop a city-owned mountaintop in San Diego for decades may have to come down after a 17-year legal battle.

A federal judge moved to end a 17-year legal saga yesterday by ordering the city of San Diego to remove the Mount Soledad cross from city property within 90 days or be fined $5,000 a day.

“It is now time, and perhaps long overdue, for this Court to enforce its initial permanent injunction forbidding the presence of the Mount Soledad Cross on City property,” U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson Jr. said.

The 29-foot cross was dedicated in 1954 at the site of a Korean War memorial. A resident sued in 1989 to have it removed. Several attempts to transfer the land under the cross to private groups have been disallowed. So now the cross will likely be moved to nearby private land.

The mayor of San Diego has indicated a willingness to continue fighting the case, but the city is strapped for cash and can ill-afford the fines.

This has become a cause celebre for conservative groups, in part because the original plaintiff was an atheist, and he received assistance from the ACLU. But the legal reasoning seems very clear:

In his ruling, Thompson said he has spent years hearing arguments over the cross, as have other courts.

“Consistently, every court that has addressed the issue has ruled that the presence of the Latin cross on Mount Soledad, land which is owned by the city of San Diego . . . violates Article I Section 4 of the California Constitution,” he said in his order.

I'm not the sort to get all offended by a giant cross overlooking a city -- I actually think the big statue of Jesus that overlooks Rio de Janeiro is pretty cool. But this is about the law, not my personal lack of offense. And the law makes sense. It is wrong for our government to have a cross represent all Korean War vets, as if they were all Christian or even believers. And it is wrong to use city property to promote one religion above all others.

One could argue that the cross has historic significance. After all, we wouldn't move the cross if it was hundreds of years old. Southwestern states operate old Spanish missions as historic sites, for example, and the religious symbols are part of the presentation.

But presenting religion in a historic context is clearly distinct from promoting it. More to the point, the San Diego cross has scant historic value, being less than 60 years old. That is not enough to overcome the importance of the government being seen as neutral on belief -- and nonbelief.

The solution is simple, and has already been planned: move the cross to nearby public land. The cross is preserved and it is still highly visible. But you will no longer have one religion using the levers of governmental power to promote itself.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So....how long before you advocate taking "In God We Trust" off all our coin and paper money? How long before a Presidential swearing-in ceremony is prohibited from placing the hand on the Bible? How long before a President can no longer say, "God Bless America?" How long before we are prohibited from placing the big traditional Christmas tree on the White House lawn?

It's beginning to feel a bit like early pre-Nazi Germany.
JP5

5/11/2006 9:13 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Considering that "In God we Trust" was only added in 1957, I don't see what's so sacred about it, pardon the pun.

Presidents being sworn in should be able to use any object they want; it's none of my business.

Anyone, president or not, can invoke God whenever they want. That is their right as a private citizen.

The Christmas tree on the White House lawn? I'm not going to be the one to demand it be taken down. But I'm also not going to step up and defend it if someone complains. I'll just point out how there are far more important things to be worried about.

5/11/2006 10:56 PM  

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