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Mt. Soledad Cross, War Memorial: Mt. Soledad Cross v. Church/State Separation


What is the Mt. Soledad Cross & War Memorial?:

Located on top of Mt. Soledad in San Diego, California, is a 29-foot-tall concrete cross sitting on a 14-foot-tall platform. It was erected in 1955 to replace an older wooden cross. It was originally designed as a Christian Easter memorial cross. In 1989, after it was challenged as a violation of the separation of church and state, a Korean veterans' war memorial was added to the site in order to create a secular context as an excuse to have the cross remain.

Why is the Mt. Soledad Cross Being Challenged?:

The Mt. Soledad cross was challenged by Philip Paulson, an atheist and Vietnam War veteran, as an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state. It is argued that this Christian cross which so completely dominates the war memorial is a massive endorsement of Christianity. It effectively excludes non-Christian veterans and community members at a site where all should be equally welcome and equally citizens. There is no good reason for a city government to promote Christianity with a massive Christian cross.

Doesn't the Mt. Soledad Cross Represent All Veterans?:

The Mt. Soledad war memorial exists for all war veterans and for the community at large. This, however, cannot transform a Christian cross from a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior of Humanity, into a mere secular symbol of those who fell during war. The Mt. Soledad cross does not represent all veterans of all religions or of no religion like Philip Paulson; it is instead a symbol of traditional Christianity. This makes it an endorsement of traditional Christianity.

Isn't the Mt. Soledad Cross Constitutional Because the War Memorial is Secular?:

It is true that a religious symbol or text may be constitutional if it is one piece of a larger and secular display. If the cross were small and one of many symbols of the religions of veterans, it would surely be constitutional. Because it is the only religious symbol and because it not only dominates the memorial, but towers over the city, this defense doesn't work. The fact that the "secular" context was only added later after Philip Paulson filed his lawsuit makes it nothing more than a poor excuse.

Isn't the Mt. Soledad Cross Constitutional Because it's Old?:

It is becoming increasingly and disturbingly common for courts to rule that something is constitutionally permissible because it is old and hasn't been challenged before. The implicit principle is that there is a statue of limitations on the First Amendment: if the state can get away with violating the constitution by endorsing or promoting a religion, then it eventually becomes de facto constitutional. This is wrong because tradition is not a valid constitutional defense.

Are Atheists Infringing on Christians' Free Speech?:

This argument is frequently made in a variety of ways and it's always wrong. Freedom of speech is a right guaranteed to the individual, not to the state or to individuals acting on behalf of the state. The cross at the Mt. Soledad war memorial is not personal, individual speech. It is effectively a government statement and a government-endorsed symbol. It could exist on private land without a problem; on public land, it becomes a problem. Philip Paulson's lawsuit never endangered the private free speech rights of any Christians.

Are Crosses on Veterans' Graves Unconstitutional?:

Grave markers for individual veterans are not the same as a war memorial that exists for veterans generally and the community at large. Individuals can choose to have a cross or a symbol for some other religion on their grave. It's a personal choice and does not imply any endorsement by the state. A war memorial which singles out a cross for special promotion does indicate state endorsement of that symbol and that religion.

Hasn't the Site Always Been a War Memorial, Not a Religious Monument?:

No. Every Easter but one has seen Christian worship services on the site. The current cross was dedicated to "Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ." Only after the 1989 lawsuit filed by atheist Philip Paulson was there a marker describing the site as a "memorial" and the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association added plaques with names and photos of war veterans. Before the lawsuit, maps listed the site as the "Mt. Soledad Easter Cross." Afterwards, it was listed as "Mt. Soledad Memorial."

Why the Mt. Soledad Cross Must Go:

Some may argue that the Mt. Soledad cross is ultimately irrelevant and that it just isn't worth going to court over. This is a mistake, even though some individuals may not personally care enough to get involved. There are several reasons why the Mt. Soledad cross matters and why it should be removed.

The Mt. Soledad cross feeds into the popular myth that the Korean War was one between godless communism and Christian capitalism. Implying that the godless are enemies and that America is defined by Christianity is wrong. Godless Americans should not have to accept such bigotry from their government and Christians do not deserve such privileging.

The Mt. Soledad cross inappropriately associates all Korean war veterans with Christianity and this is also wrong. People of all religions and no religion fought in Korea. Any genuine memorial to Korean war veterans in particular or war veterans generally should not single out any one religion or religious symbol for favoritism.

The Mt. Soledad cross rises above San Diego in a way that's difficult for non-Christians to avoid. This Latin cross is an unmistakable symbol of Christianity and as such represents an unmistakable endorsement of Christianity by the city. Christians should not be privileged and favored by government in this manner.

The Mt. Soledad cross would serve its religious purpose just as well on private property, like church grounds. The only reason for keeping it high above the city is to tell Christians that they and their religion are favored by the government and this is why Christians have opposed efforts to simply move it to another parcel of private property — it's not the cross itself they are defending, but the message sent by having the cross on government property and looming above the city.

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