Supreme Court Declines to Hear Challenge to Mt. Soledad Cross Case

Finally, some welcome news from the Supreme Court: The Mount Soledad cross in San Diego — a huge cross on public land — is still unconstitutional.

Steve Trunk, in front of the Mt. Soledad Cross

The controversy has been going on since 1989 and it’s finally over now that the Court declined to hear a challenge to its unconstitutionality:

It’s been a long wait for justice. Steve [Trunk] won his legal challenge before the appeals court in January 2011. The lawsuit actually began in 1989, when Philip Paulson, a Vietnam vet and atheist, first sued. Paulson, who became FFRF’s premiere Atheist in Foxhole awardee first won his case in federal court in 1991. But it has taken more than 21 years to enforce that ruling. Steve Trunk, also a Vietnam vet and atheist, joined the case when Paulson was dying, ensuring the continuation of what has to be one of the longest-running Establishment Clause cases in U.S. history.

The American Humanist Association is also pleased with the Court’s decision not to hear an appeal to the case:

“The Supreme Court’s decision today rightly affirms the Ninth Circuit court’s conclusion that the Mt. Soledad cross amounts to an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity on public land,” said Bill Burgess, attorney and legal coordinator of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “The cross is an exclusively Christian symbol, and it dominates the memorial in such a way that an observer is left to conclude that Christianity is favored by the government.”

Enjoy the victory for a few days before the Court screws everything up again.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • ortcutt

    Uhh, no.  Declining cert is not the same as affirming the ruling.  It means that the 9th Circuit ruling stands, but it doesn’t reach the merits of the case.  Also they didn’t deny an “appeal”.  Cert petitions are not appeals, since petitions are discretionary while appeals are not.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      FML. Sorry about that. I’ve tried to fix any misleading parts of the post, including the headline. Thanks.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

        This case is not technically over yet as the 9th Circuit remanded the case to the District Court to determine an appropriate remedy for the cross. This could include transferring the land to private ownership or (theoretically) adding similarly sized religious icons for every possible religious belief. :-/

        Whatever remedy the District Court orders can then itself be appealed to the 9th Circuit, then the 9th Circuit en banc, then the Supreme Court.

  • Joe Zamecki

    I enjoy the victory. It’d be nice to enjoy seeing that cross come down though. Maybe take it apart and turn the parts into  a handball court in a public park. Something useful.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    Cue butthurt Christians in 3…2…1…

  • Scott Trimble

    The cross wouldn’t necessarily be removed.  Something similar happened with the Mount Davidson Cross in San Francisco, California, so the city kept the surrounding hillside park and sold just the plot of land that the cross stood on, thus placing it on private property.  http://bit.ly/MofbvN

    • Pseudonym

      Yes, exactly. This is probably what is going to happen.

      Of course, if they screw that up, they open themselves to further lawsuits.

  • TGAP Dad

    So since the high court has declined to intercede in this case, the last ruling (which was stayed pending appeal) was to remove the cross, if my memory serves me correctly. So if that is true, then is there any way the can continue to keep the cross in place? Are there any legal maneuvers left for them? Can we finally celebrate this victory once and for all?

    Lawyers out there: jump on in!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jesus-Chrystler/1797838676 Jesus Chrystler

    Sadly they still won’t remove the cross, and will continue to keep this in litigation limbo until a court finally rules one way or the other on the appeals.  Way to drag this out, guess it is suspected from a group whose savior is still dragging out their promised return.

  • kimpatsu


    The controversy has been going on since 1989 and it’s finally over now that the Court declined to hear a challenge to it’s unconstitutionality:”
    Hemant! Do you allow your students to misuse the apostrophe like this?! What does “…it is unconstitutionality” mean?!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Fixed! SORRY! :)

  • TheG

    I went back to play that awful “Don’t Tear Me Down” emotional rape on youtube.  I guess they took it down when they either realized it confirmed the religious message of the monument or just an admission of a crushing defeat.

  • Greisha

    As San Diegoan :) I am glad to see some progress with this case.


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