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(Contributions from "Soledad Cross History" published at made with permission of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.)


The annual Thomas Guide published by Thomas Brothers Maps refers to the landmark as the "Mount Soledad Easter Cross."

Easter Sunday 1954

With the permission of the San Diego City Council, the Mount Soledad Memorial Association (MSMA) dedicates the cross on Mount Soledad as a tribute to veterans of World War I, World War II, and the Korean Conflict.


On May 31 Philip Paulson and Howard Kreisner file a lawsuit claiming the religious symbol's presence on state land violates provisions of the U.S. and California constitutions. They do all of their legal research and writing as well as court presentations without legal representation.

A small plaque dated November 11 that recognizes the site as a memorial to veterans is mounted to the fence surrounding the base of the cross.


On December 3 U.S. District Court Judge Gordon Thompson Jr. rules in favor of the plaintiffs, Paulson and Kreisner, noting that the cross is permanently positioned inside a public park and maintained at taxpayers' expense. Kreisner resigns from the case shortly after the ruling and the City of San Diego Historical Site Board designates the cross and the surrounding park as historical sites.


On June 2 San Diego voters approve Proposition F, which allows transfer of ownership of a portion of Mount Soledad Natural Park to a private, non-profit corporation for maintenance of a historic war memorial.


The city appeals the 1991 district court decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upholds the decision, ruling that the mere designation of the cross as a war memorial isn't enough to satisfy the "no preference clause" of the California Constitution. The City and County of San Diego thereupon petition and are granted a hearing en banc (a vote by the entire twenty-eight judges of the court). They bose by a unanimous decision.


The city sells 224 square feet of land at the base of the cross to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association for $24,000.

7The MSMA clearly states its intention to keep the cross as part of its proposed war memorial and the city doesn't solicit or consider bids from any other prospective buyers of the land.

On October 10 the City and County of San Diego petition the U.S Supreme Court with a writ of certiorari. The Court declines to hear the appeal.


Though it has become a tradition for Christian groups to hold Easter sunrise services at the cross site, this year University of California at San Diego Political Science Professor Peter Irons is the first to secure the permit for that date and proceeds to conduct a controversial but well-attended secular sunrise event for people of all religions and no religion.


On September 18 Judge Thompson rules that both the negotiated sale of the cross site to the MSMA and the size of the plot sold violate two separate provisions of the California Constitution. Thompson writes: "Both the method of sale and the amount of land sold underneath the Mount Soledad cross do not cure the constitutional infirmities outlined in this court's previous order."


The city again attempts to sell the land to a private group. Five bids are submitted, including one from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The bid from the MSMA (the highest) is accepted and a half-acre of land around the cross is sold for $106,000.

Paulson receives the "Freedom Fighter Award" from the Rationalist Society of St. Louis.


On February 3 Judge Thompson upholds the 1998 transfer. Paulson appeals, and the ACLU joins the appeal as his co-counsel.

The MSMA constructs six concentric granite walls around the base of the cross designed to hold plaques purchased by individuals wishing to honor a veteran's military service. An American flag, small pillars, and brick pavers are also installed to honor community and veterans' groups and supporters of the memorial. All told, the MSMA will spend over $900,000 on the improvements and sell over 1,700 plaques.


In August a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirms Judge Thompson's ruling.


Paulson's petition for rehearing en banc is granted on February 2.

The case is reargued on March 21 before an eleven-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit.

On June 26 the court finds that the city's sale of the cross to the MSMA violates Article XVI, section 5, of the California Constitution, which prohibits government from affording any financial advantage or subsidy to religion.

The city again appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, which again declines to hear the case.


The La Jolla American Legion Post 275, which created the MSMA, votes unanimously to support moving the cross to the nearby Mount Soledad Presbyterian Church. The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce lobbies the city council to support the move. In exchange for Paulson dismissing his suit, the parties agree to move the cross to the church, allowing the MSMA to maintain an interest in the war memorial and replace the cross with a nonsectarian symbol appropriately recognizing all veterans.

The settlement terms are presented to the city council on July 27 but the council conditions its acceptance on the outcome of a second "save the cross" ballot proposition to city voters. Proposition K specifically asks voters to give the city authorization to sell a portion of Mount Soledad to the highest bidder.

On November 2 voters reject Proposition K by a large margin.

Two members of Congress, Randy Cunningham and Duncan Hunter, slip a rider into a $300 billion appropriations bill to designate the memorial a national monument, specifically requiring the continued presence of the cross. This allows the federal government to accept a yet-to-be-offered donation of the land from the city and directs the National Park Service to help maintain it. A restraining order temporarily bars the transfer to the federal government.

On December 19 Paulson is named 2004 Atheist of the Year by American Atheists California.


On March 8 the San Diego City Council votes against a proposal to transfer the land to the National Park Service.

A petition signed by over 100,000 San Diego County residents causes the City Council to reconsider its decision to transfer the land. On May 16, after rejecting in a 5-4 vote a proposal to directly donate the land to the federal government, the Council votes 6-3 to include a ballot measure in the forthcoming special Mayoral election.

Paulson files a pre-election challenge in state court, claiming the proposed transfer violates the California Constitution.

On July 26 voters approve Proposition A to transfer the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial property to the federal government.

On September 3, in response to Paulson's challenge, Superior Court Judge Patricia Yin Cowett issues a temporary restraining order barring the transfer. Lawyers on each side present their arguments on October 3. A key issue is the status of the area as a secular war memorial, given that it wasn't developed as a memorial until ten years after the first lawsuit.

An October 1 New York Times article reports that, because San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre personally opposes fighting to keep the cross, he brought in a lawyer from a conservative Christian legal advocacy group to make the city's case. "It's clearly unconstitutional," he declares, adding that the case has gone on for so long because city officials have seen political opportunity in defying court rulings. "It's like San Diego doesn't recognize the need to comply with the law as a fundamental principle."

On October 7 Judge Cowett finds the ballot measure unconstitutional. Her ruling states: "Maintenance of this Latin Cross as it is on the property in question, is found to be an unconstitutional preference of religion in violation of Article I, Section 4, of the California Constitution, and the transfer of the memorial with the cross as its centerpiece to the federal government to save the cross as it is, where it is, is an unconstitutional aid to religion in violation of Article XVI, Section 5."

In December Philip Paulson's lawyer James McElroy asks a San Diego Superior Court judge to order the city of San Diego to pay his legal fees for the October victory.


On January 13 Judge Cowett rules that the city must pay for McElroy's fees, but exactly how much is yet to be determined. The city plans to appeal.

On May 3 U.S. District Court Judge Thompson rules that the Mount Soledad cross must be removed from the property within ninety days or the city of San Diego will be fined $5,000 a day thereafter.

In a May 4 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, William Kellogg, president of the MSMA is quoted as saying the group is prepared to have the cross moved to private property nearby and place another fitting symbol for veterans at the memorial. "We feel it's very important that the cross be saved," he says. "The location of the cross is not the primary issue." In the same article, Paulson's attorney James McElroy says, "It's time to end seventeen years of litigation and it's time for the taxpayers to end footing the bill for futile litigation." He also reports receiving numerous death threats, one as recently as the day before, as a result of handling the case.

On May 11 Mayor Jerry Sanders asks President George W. Bush to use the power of eminent domain to take the city-owned property on which the Mount Soledad Memorial cross sits.

On May 23 the San Diego City Council votes 5-3 to appeal Judge Thompson's May 3rd order to remove the cross.

Mayor Sanders announces on June 2 that the city has filed an appeal of Thomson's order. The city also asks that the appeal be ruled on by June 8, after which they will comply with the order if the appeal isn't granted.

On June 21 a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declines to step in and suspend the $5,000 daily fine that will be imposed on the city if the cross isn't removed by August 1.

On June 26 San Diego County Congressmen Duncan Hunter (R-52nd), Brian Bilbray (R-50th) and Darrell Issa (R-49th) introduce HR 5683, a bill to preserve the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, California, by providing for the immediate acquisition of the memorial by the United States.

On July 3 Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy issues a temporary stay in favor of the city and the cross's supporters to allow time for further appeals.

On July 7, in a four-page decision, Justice Kennedy grants the City of San Diego's request for a stay pending a ruling on the city's appeal.

On July 19 HR 5683 passes in the House of Representatives by a vote of 349-74.

On August 1 the Senate approves (through procedural "unanimous consent"; not a recorded vote) an eminent domain plan to transfer the cross and the land underneath it to federal control. Plaintiff Paulson seeks a court-ordered injunction and stay by stopping the transfer until all legal issues have been adjudicated in the courts.

On August 11 Paulson and newly named Plaintiff Steve Trunk file a new lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Southern California. U.S. District Court Judge Barry Moskowitz agrees to rule and decide by September 2006 if both the land transfer and the presence of the cross on federal land are unconstitutional.

On August 14 President Bush signs HR 5683.

On August 21 the ACLU, representing the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, files a separate lawsuit against the U.S. government and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, charging that the continued display of the Mount Soledad cross on federally owned land unlawfully entangles government with religion. The suit asks the Court to order the cross' removal.

In a September 1 story, the San-Diego Union-Tribune reports that Paulson was diagnosed on July 31 with terminal liver cancer. Paulson says doctors estimated he has four to twelve months to live if chemotherapy is unsuccessful.

On September 3 Paulson receives the 2006 Humanist Pioneer Award from the American Humanist Association and the 2006 Church and State Award from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

On September 7 the House Judiciary Committee approves the Public Expression of Religion Act, H R 2679, first introduced in September 2005. The bill heads to the House floor for a full vote while similar legislation is pending in the Senate (S 3696). These bills would bar courts from awarding attorney's fees to prevailing parties bringing suit under the establishment clause, and would make it much more difficult for citizens to challenge governmental violations of the separation of church and state.

The spirit behind this action was clearly articulated in a July 26 New York Sun article in which Rees Lloyd, a lawyer and unit commander with the American Legion, was quoted as saying, "I'm appalled at the notion that the ACLU or any other purported public interest law firm would be suing veterans' memorials and then seeking taxpayer-funded attorney fee awards.... The ACLU has lost all moorings and common sense and rationality and proportionality.... It's become the Taliban of American liberal secularism."

On September 26 HR 2679 passes in the House of Representatives by a vote of 244 to 173.
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Author:Paulson, Philip
Publication:The Humanist
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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