San Diego: Federal Judge Orders Removal of San Diego Hilltop Vets’ Cross (4 May 2006)
SAN DIEGO — After a 17-year legal battle between the city and a self-described atheist, a judge has ordered San Diego officials to remove a giant cross from a hilltop park. The 29-foot-high cross was dedicated as a memorial to Korean War veterans in 1954 on a hilltop that towers over seaside La Jolla.
Philip Paulson, an atheist and Vietnam veteran, has been challenging its placement on city-owned parkland since 1989. U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson Jr. gave the city 90 days to comply with a 1991 injunction forbidding the cross on public property or start paying $5,000 a day in fines. “It is now time, and perhaps long overdue,” the judge wrote. Still, Mayor Jerry Sanders said he would ask the city attorney to appeal.
Thompson found the presence of the cross on city property unconstitutional in 1991, two years after its legality was challenged. Since then, his order and the cross have been subject to litigation (*), public debates and three votes.
The city has tried to sell the half-acre beneath the cross to a nonprofit association that maintains the surrounding memorial walls. But federal judges have repeatedly blocked the sale, saying the transactions were designed to favor a buyer who would keep the cross in place. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the city’s appeal. A city-sponsored referendum asking permission from residents to sell the property failed in 2004. In July 2005, nearly 76 percent of the voters approved a referendum to transfer the land to the federal government; but a Superior Court judge ruled in October that measure (Proposition A) violated the state constitution (being an “unconstitutional aid to religion”). That decision (**) is on appeal.
Now the lawyers who fought for the removal of the cross expect city officials to comply with the judge’s order. 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. And, he said, two cases that came up at the same time as this one – involving a cross on Mount Helix and a cross on the La Mesa city seal – have long since been resolved.
Although Mayor Jerry Sanders said he will propose appealing the ruling, City Attorney Mike Aguirre said an appeal would be a waste of time and resources. It is unclear whether the City Council would approve an appeal. Sanders justified continuing the legal battle because, he said, most San Diegans believe the cross should stay.
(Fonte: www.signonsandiego.com – “The Union Tribune”)