U.S. High Court Rules It’s Not Their Cross to Bear . . . for Now

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


A towering cross on federal property atop Mount Soledad in San Diego may have to come down after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to let stand without comment an appeals court ruling that the memorial illegally conveys a religious message. But it is in no way clear when that might happen.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a separate opinion that the denial of appeal isn’t a ruling on the case’s merits and that once a final judgment in the case has been rendered, the issue can be raised at a later date. It almost certainly will be. The cross has been around in one form or another since 1913 and the target of litigation for the past 22 years. Its supporters say the Mount Soledad cross is part of a secular memorial, while its opponents argue that it is an obvious religious symbol perched prominently on government land.

The first cross at Mount Soledad was erected in 1913, stolen and replaced in 1923, then burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan after a black family moved into the area. A new cross was erected in 1934 but was blown down by high winds in 1952. It was replaced in 1954 with a 29-foot cross on a 14-foot-high base that remains there to this day.

Lawsuits were filed against the city of San Diego in 1989, charging that the cross violated the California Constitution and the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment separation of church and state. Amid the ongoing litigation, the city tried to sell the site in 1998 to a private group, the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, and it was transformed into a Korean War memorial with the cross surrounded by six concentric walls containing plaques honoring more than 2,800 veterans. The sale was contested in court and in 2005 voters approved Proposition A, which transferred the property to the U.S. Department of the Interior for use as a war memorial.

That transfer was, of course, contested in court and the complex, multi-faceted litigation continued. U.S. District Court Judge Gordon Thompson, Jr. ordered the cross be taken down in 2006, 15 years after issuing his original injunction against it. Five years later, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled the cross unconstitutional and that was appealed to the high court.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case returns it to the federal courts for “final” resolution.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Supreme Court Clears Way for California Cross Removal (by James Vicini, Reuters)

Supreme Court Won't Hear Mt. Soledad Cross Case (by J. Harry Jones and Greg Moran, San Diego Union-Tribune)

What is Mt. Soledad Memorial Park? (La Jolla Parks)

Mount Soledad Cross History, in Outline (SD Shout)

Leave a comment