SAN DIEGO – Voters in San Diego, Calif., yesterday approved a controversial proposition that will now transfer a landmark war memorial to the federal government and at the same time protect a 29-foot-tall cross at the center of the monument.
More than 75 percent of those who voted sided with proponents of Proposition A, a measure that became necessary after the cross atop Mt. Soledad came under fire from a San Diego atheist and his ACLU-funded lawyer more than a decade ago. In 1989, Philip Paulson filed suit against the City of San Diego, claiming that the presence of the cross on city property violated the provision on separation of church and state in the California Constitution.
Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Baptist Church and a member of the group San Diegans for a Mt. Soledad National War Memorial, said the vote was an "overwhelming victory" for those who were willing to stand up to “the intolerant few, the judges who legislate from the bench, the corrupt city council and the ACLU.” Clark is an alumnus of Southwestern Seminary (MDiv 1989).
“I hope this gives courage and hope to Christians across the country who have seen their First Amendment rights continually chipped away. Working together the citizens of San Diego have risen up to accomplish their will, and we did it within the system prescribed by law,” Clark said.
Proposition A made it to the special election July 26 after more than 73,000 valid signatures were gathered on a petition that asked the City Council to reverse its March 8 decision not to transfer the memorial to the federal government. The transfer was seen as a way to preserve the cross after a judge ruled in 1991 that the cross on public land was unconstitutional. Two attempts by the city to sell the land to the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association where overturned in court.
In December 2004, President Bush signed into law a bill (HR 4818) that would allow the federal government to assume ownership of the property should the city donate it. Supporters of the cross, both Christian and non-Christian, stepped in with the petition when the city refused the offer from the federal government.
“You don’t have to take it,” Clark said. “You can take matters into your own hands. You can find out the legal prescriptions to overturn bad government decisions. You can generate a grassroots effort to reverse the decisions. You can bring the decision before the people for a vote. You can stand up and declare the reasons why you are working to being about the necessary change – because of the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ that has transformed you.”
But as in any system of law, the will of the people can be challenged, a promise made after the vote by James McElroy, who represented Paulson in the original and subsequent cases. He told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the vote was meaningless. “Voters should have never voted on it. It’s a waste of taxpayer money,” McElroy told the paper.
McElroy said the vote on Proposition A was unconstitutional. He said he would challenge the victory in court and ask the judge who originally ruled in 1991 that the cross should be removed to impose a fine of $5,000 per day for every day the cross remains on the hilltop.
“I think they have acknowledged this is the last chance to save the cross,” McElroy told the Union-Tribune. “And when the court tells them this is not going to work, what else have they got?”
Clark said McElroy has been trying to tear the cross down for 16 years “to remove that reminder of Jesus Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, to remove a monument that honors those American heroes.”
“I am so grateful that the Lord moved His people to rise up and act to protect not only a war memorial, not only a concrete cross, but our right to express our religious views that are protected under the First Amendment. Without the reminder of the greatest sacrifice in all of history, the honor to America’s military heroes is greatly diminished,” Clark said.