Federal Government Takes Control of a Huge Cross

The cross at Dan Diego's Mount Soledad Memorial honoring veterans has been ruled unconstitutional by courts because it stands on public property.
The cross at Dan Diego's Mount Soledad Memorial honoring veterans has been ruled unconstitutional by courts because it stands on public property. (By Lenny Ignelzi -- Associated Press)
From News Services
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A gigantic cross in San Diego that has been the focus of a 17-year court battle became the property of the federal government yesterday with President Bush's signature.

Supporters hope the legislation enabling the federal government to purchase the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial -- featuring a 29-foot cross -- from the city of San Diego will protect it permanently. A series of court decisions have deemed the cross unconstitutional because it stands on public property.

"Just because something may have a religious connotation doesn't mean you destroy it and tear it down," said Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif.), after an Oval Office signing ceremony attended by other cross supporters and Republican House members who sponsored the bill.

But the legal fight that began in 1989 when an atheist veteran sued San Diego over the cross is not over. Philip Paulson's attorney, Jim McElroy, said he filed papers in federal court in San Diego last week to void the transfer and declare it unconstitutional.

"I don't think anybody really thinks the cross is going to remain on Mount Soledad. It's been 17 years of litigation, and every court, every judge who's ever looked at it has ruled it's unconstitutional," McElroy said.

Paulson, who fought in the Vietnam War, contends that the cross, dedicated in 1954 in honor of Korean War veterans, excludes veterans who are not Christian.

Proponents of the new law believe the change in ownership could help insulate the cross from legal challenges because federal law is more flexible about religious displays on federal property than the California Constitution is about city land.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company