San Diego Showdown: Battle Over Cross In California Park Continues

A 17-year battle to keep a towering Christian cross atop a hillside overlooking San Diego, Calif., has become yet another front in our nation's so-called culture wars.

Philip Paulson, a Vietnam veteran and San Diego resident, sued the city seeking removal of the 43-foot religious symbol from Mount Soledad Natural Park. His lawsuit argued that the icon violates the separation of church and state. Religious symbols, the case contended, are properly displayed on private property, such as a church lawn, but not in a public, tax-supported park.

Since the filing of the lawsuit, city officials have transferred the land to private entities three times in blatant efforts to keep the cross in place. Those maneuvers were declared shams by the courts and invalidated.

Various anti-separationist forces have joined the fray. Conservative pundits, such as the insistently shrill Michelle Malkin, have used the cross battle in their ongoing efforts to destroy church-state separation and establish a Christian nation.

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has also thrown himself into the fight. In 2004, he slipped a provision into a massive spending bill designating Mount Soledad park a veterans' memorial, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.  

In a recent letter to President George W. Bush, Hunter seeks to have Mount Soledad declared a national park, thereby avoiding the recent state court order to remove the cross or face daily fines of $5,000.

A lawyer for the city told the Union-Tribune that if the land becomes federal property, the debate will shift to whether the cross violates the First Amendment. The federal and state court rulings have said the cross violates the California Constitution's provision calling for church-state separation, which is stricter than the First Amendment.

The lawyer who argued for the removal of the cross told the newspaper he couldn't understand why "anyone would think a cross on city land would be any different than a cross on federal land."

The Religious Right forces fighting to keep the cross on public land, however, are blinded by zeal. If those folks had their way, public parks and all public buildings across the nation would be festooned with symbols of Christianity.

And their argument that Mount Soledad is a war memorial is specious. In a 2002 hearing on the cross, 9th U.S. Circuit Judge William Fletcher questioned the city's argument that the cross is a memorial for veterans of war.

"If I'm a Jewish veteran, am I to feel that's for me or for Christian veterans?" asked Fletcher.

The Mount Soledad cross is a symbol of the Christian faith, and its proper place is on church property. San Diego and California officials should stop frittering away tax dollars promoting the merger of government and religion.