- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006


The Supreme Court intervened yesterday to save for now a 29-foot cross at San Diego’s Mount Soledad National War Memorial, granting a stay while supporters fight to protect the cross dedicated to Korean War veterans.

A lower court judge said it was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and ordered San Diego to remove the cross from city property or be fined $5,000 a day.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, acting for the high court, issued a stay without comment pending a further order from him or the entire court. It was not clear how long the stay will remain in effect.

Attorneys for San Diegans for the Mount Soledad National War Memorial said in an appeal that they wanted to avoid the “destruction of this national treasure.” And attorneys for the city said the cross was part of a broader memorial that was important to the community.

The 29-foot cross, on San Diego property, sits atop Mount Soledad. A judge declared it was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

The cross, which has been in place for decades, was contested by Philip Paulson, a Vietnam veteran and atheist.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court had refused to get involved in the long-running dispute between Mr. Paulson and the city.

In its most recent case involving religious symbols, the Supreme Court ruled last year in a pair of 5-4 decisions that overtly religious displays are unconstitutional, but historic ones are allowed.

The court, then led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, struck down framed copies of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses while upholding a 6-foot granite monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol.

The only religious case to come before the court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. involved the use of hallucinogenic tea by a small branch of a South American religious sect. The court unanimously ruled that the government cannot hinder religious practices without proof of a “compelling” need to do so.

The cross was dedicated in 1954 as a memorial to Korean War veterans, and a private association maintains a veterans memorial on the land surrounding it.

Mayor Jerry Sanders has argued that the cross, sitting atop Mount Soledad in La Jolla, is an integral part of the memorial and deserves the same exemptions to government-maintained religious symbols as those granted to other war monuments.

In May, U.S. District Court Judge Gordon Thompson Jr., a 1970 appointee of President Nixon, ordered the city to take down the 29-foot cross before Aug. 2 or pay daily fines of $5,000.

Last year, San Diego voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot proposition to transfer the land beneath the cross to the federal government. The measure was designed to absolve the city of responsibility for the cross under the existing lawsuit. But a California Superior Court judge found the proposition to be unconstitutional.

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