The historic 43-foot cross has stood atop Mount Soledad on public land since 1954. The Mount Soledad Memorial Association erected the monument to commemorate the sacrifice of American soldiers who died in the Korean War, World War I and World War II. The cross has long carried meaning for the city's residents far beyond religious symbolism. "It's a symbol of coming of age and of remembrance," Pastor Mark Slomka of the Mount Soledad Presbyterian Church said years ago when the case erupted. The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board explained that the cross is "much like the Mission San Diego de Alcala and the cross at Presidio Park, both of which also are rooted in Christianity but have come to signify the birth of San Diego."
I first started covering the case as an editorial writer at the Los Angeles Daily News in the early 1990s. A federal judge initially ruled that the landmark cross's presence violated the California constitution's church-state separation principles. The city of San Diego put the issue before voters, who overwhelmingly approved a practical solution in 2005: Sell the cross and the park to the veterans group for use in a national war memorial.
A pragmatic, tolerant resolution with 76 percent of voters' support? Heavens, no! The extreme secularists couldn't have that. They sued and sued and sued and sued. By 2007, the state Supreme Court -- affirmed by a state appellate court -- had rejected the atheists' campaign. The courts affirmed the constitutionality of the San Diego referendum (Proposition A) and the sale of the cross to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association. The American Civil Liberties Union intervened to suppress and "de-publish" the ruling as a way to prevent its use in future litigation. They lost.
Lawyers for the Thomas More Law Center, which represented the memorial association, were relieved: "This decision protects the will of the people and their desire to preserve a historical veterans memorial for future generations." They've fought hard to remind America that the Founding Fathers fought for freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.