Cross Has San Diego at a Crossroads
SAN DIEGO – For 16 years, San Diego has been in a battle over whether a massive cross that overlooks the city from Mount Soledad (search) should stay where it is or be removed.
Click in the box to the left to watch a report by FOX News' Adam Housley.
“These 10 Commandment displays or crosses on public property — insignias and logos that have literally been there for decades — are truly reflective of an important part of our religious and cultural heritage,” said Charles Limandri of the Thomas More Law Center.
In November, San Diego voters rejected a ballot measure, Proposition K, which would have authorized the sale of the land on which the monument stands in an effort to correct violations of the state constitution that prohibit the display of religious symbols on state land.
In May, San Diego's City Council agreed to allow a measure called Proposition A on a July special election mayoral ballot after a massive signature-gathering effort organized by a group called San Diegans for the Mount Soledad National War Memorial.
Proposition A proposes a handover of the land to the U.S. Interior Department, thereby making it federal land. Federal laws are not as restrictive as California state code.
“California’s state constitution is a little broader in terms of scrutinizing religious symbols on public property. They'll look at not only whether it is establishing religion but if it’s showing aid to religion; so it could be considered a tougher test. So we think having it under the federal constitution, under the federal national parks makes more sense,” Limandri adds.
In the election last Tuesday, 76 percent of voters approved the transfer. Despite the vote, the fight isn't over.
City Attorney Michael Aguirre told The San Diego Union Tribune that it would be unconstitutional for the city to transfer the cross to the government because it would be done primarily to preserve a religious symbol.
Lawsuits are still pending after the November vote, alleging the ballot measure was illegal. If a judge agrees, the whole fight could start over.
That could be bad news for the cross display. Some citizens don't want to waste any more resources trying to keep the cross.
In addition, in a town racked by financial problems and suffering a seemingly endless battle to fill the mayor's seat, City Councilman Scott Peters said he worries about the ripple effect on San Diego.
“I just think that as city we can't afford to fight this battle and that’s the position we are going to be in. When we lose these cases, which it appears we will again, the plaintiffs will sue us and recover their attorneys fees from our public money, and I just don't think that we are in a position to do that anymore.”
To make matters worse, it's not just opponents of the cross taking the city to court. The Mount Soledad Memorial Association which owns the cross says it owns the land too, which means voters may have given away property that wasn't theirs.
James McElroy, the attorney for a resident who sued the city over the cross' presence on city land 16 years ago, told The Tribune that if the measure passes it will be challenged again in court.
"This will be resolved in the courtroom where it deserves to be resolved and not in front of the voters," he said.