U.S. Dept. of Justice to Supreme Court: If Mount Soledad Cross is Ruled Unconstitutional, We Will Defend It

I can’t believe we’re still having a conversation about the Mount Soledad cross. But it looks like the U.S. Government wants to defend it, so we have to keep talking about it.

A quick recap: This controversy, which began nearly 25 years ago, is the longest-running Establishment Clause case in American history.

It involves the Mount Soledad cross in San Diego — a huge cross on public land erected in 1954. After the now-deceased Philip Paulson challenged the cross’ constitutionality more than two decades ago and after atheist Steve Trunk took up the case a few years ago, atheists have generally prevailed in the court system. In 2012, the Supreme Court declined to hear any more challenges from Christian groups, putting the future of the cross back in the hands of lower courts.

Steve Trunk, in front of the Mt. Soledad Cross

Last December, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ordered the cross to come down from the mountain within 90 days… but the ruling was stayed until the other side had a chance to appeal.

This week, lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice filed a petition with the Supreme Court saying they would be defending the cross if lower courts ruled that it had to be taken down.

Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog explains:

When the proper time comes, the new brief said, the government will ask the Justices to overrule a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit more than three years ago that the Mount Soledad cross represents a violation of the Constitution’s religion clause. It was in reaction to the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that a federal judge reluctantly ruled last December that the cross had to come down, as “the only remedy” for that violation. The judge’s order is on hold for the time being.

… Taking down the monument, [the petition] said, would “unnecessarily foster religious division.”

But, it added: “To be clear, the United States continues to believe that this case raises an issue of great public importance.” If the order to remove the cross is upheld by the Ninth Circuit, “the government expects” to file its own appeal to the Supreme Court, it said.

The Obama administration, under the leadership of Eric Holder, is attempting to defend the existence of a giant Christian symbol on federal property. The fact that the Cross is more than 60 years old is irrelevant. Keep in mind that, before 1989, it was referred to as the “Mt. Soledad Easter Cross” and not as a war memorial — the name was changed to make it sound less “Christian-y.” This is so obviously an endorsement of Christianity on public land. The administration should be following the lower courts’ lead, not defying the Constitution by defending it.

(Portions of this article have been posted before.)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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