Law center challenges removal of 43-foot cross from public square

The West Coast regional office of the Thomas More Law Center has filed a brief in federal court, challenging a planned attempt to remove a 43-foot cross that has stood atop Mount Soledad in San Diego for the last 50 years. The cross is part of a memorial that honors veterans of World War I and II and the Korean War.

The Mt. Soledad Memorial Association’s effort to remove the cross is part of a private deal to settle a 15-year lawsuit brought by an atheist against the City of San Diego. The Law Center’s brief was filed on behalf of a former Navy fighter pilot, who is enlisting the support of other veterans to oppose the removal of the cross.

Atheist Phillip Paulsen filed suit in 1989 and the court ordered the City to remove the cross. In response, the City chose to place the property up for sale, but the sale was ruled unconstitutional after Paulson objected because he believed the sale indirectly aided preserving the cross.

The City of San Diego attempted a second time to sell the property in 1998, this time to the Mt. Soledad War Memorial Association. The second sale was also challenged, but originally upheld before being overturned by an en banc panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

During its short period of ownership, the Memorial Association made significant improvements to the land, including extensive landscaping and the addition of more than 3,000 plaques, purchased by citizens, honoring military veterans.

The Memorial Association has continually promised the citizens, who purchased the plaques, that the cross would be maintained as a part of the memorial. Yet the association, under threat of legal fees, privately agreed to remove the cross.

“The long and complicated struggle to remove the cross now involves hundreds of donors and owners of plaques purchased to honor our nation’s veterans,” said Charles S. LiMandri, West Coast regional director of the law center.

“These individuals were promised that the cross would stay as a part of the memorial atop Mount Soledad. It is a sad day when we are faced with the prospect of withholding a promise made to those who wish to honor our nation’s veterans, and instead surrender to the demands of a hypersensitive atheist who is set on destroying one of San Diego’s most treasured landmarks.”

The issue now facing the court is who owns the property. The Law Center’s brief argues that if the Memorial Association were considered the rightful owner of the property, then the cross would no longer violate the Constitution because it is a private entity. Moreover, the association would not be permitted to remove the cross without violating the rights of the owners and donors of plaques who were promised that the cross would stay.

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