Mount Soledad Cross Case at Appeals Court

The decades-long battle to remove the Mount Soledad cross from the hills of San Diego is once again at the appeals court.  In various formats, lawsuits have challenged the Mount Soledad cross for years.  In this most recent iteration, the US District court in July 2008 ruled in favor of those who support the cross remaining at its current location.

The basic complaint is that the cross is an inherently religious symbol, and by sustaining it on public land, the US government violates the Constitutional prohibition against “establishing” a religion.

The ACLU, which is representing the plaintiffs, has had to defend itself against accusations that it wants to remove crosses (and any memorials with them) from all public lands–including military cemeteries.  An attorney for the American Legion, which is defending the cross, said

Tearing down this veterans’ memorial would be a disgrace…It would not only dishonor those who have spilled their blood and given the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but it would open up veterans memorials nationwide to attack.

On its website, the ACLU answers this controversy with this FAQ:

Why does the ACLU want to remove crosses from federal cemeteries?
The ACLU has never pursued the removal of religious symbols from personal gravestones…

It emphasizes “personal gravestones” throughout the response, ignoring legitimate concerns about “crosses [in] federal cemeteries” that are not personal gravestones.  For example, the Argonne Cross in Arlington National Cemetery is also a war memorial, just as the Mount Soledad Cross is.  It is no more defensible.  If the ACLU wins its case against the Mount Soledad Cross, the Argonne Cross will have no legal defense and, at least legally, should also be taken down.  Thus, while the ACLU may not complain about “personal gravestones,” it leaves open the possiblity that it does want to remove “crosses from federal cemeteries”–including the hallowed grounds of Arlington.

It is difficult to predict how the case will play out judicially.  While courts are sensitive to religious offense to the Constitution, there has also been disdain expressed at the thought of those who seem to scour America for potentially religious symbols associated with the government, seemingly in search of offense.  The expression of a religion, or even the display of a religious symbol, while in remote association with the government remains a controversial (even if contrived) issue.

In a somewhat related case, a ruling is awaited from the Supreme Court on the Mojave Cross after arguments were heard in October.

One comment

  • I can’t imagine a court ordering removal of crosses from gravestones. It seems that ACLU is defending the organization by saying that they respect personal gravestones. I don’t see the difference between a personal gravestone or a veteran memorial. They are all memorials even if they are not “personal”.