California town may sell cross to avoid lawsuit

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A cross erected in Riverside, Calif., more than 100 years ago on land that was then private property may be sold to the highest bidder in order for the city to avoid a lawsuit.

The Father Junipero Cross was dedicated in 1907 on Mount Rubidoux to commemorate Father Junipero Serra was appointed to the charge of the California missions in 1767. Serra founded the missions, which became the first settlements of civilized people in California. In 1909, President William Howard Taft dedicated a plaque to Junipero near the cross. But in 1955, the mountain became a public park.

On Aug. 28, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State wrote a letter to the Riverside City Council complaining that the cross violates the U.S. Constitution, and that it either should be moved or the city should sell the land to a private entity.

"This is about hatred for religious truth," said California Family Policy Council President Ron Prentice. "Americans United's mission is to destroy any evidence of historic public symbols that represent Christianity's meaning or impact."

The cross on Mount Rubidoux has been appreciated by the people of Riverside for more than a century, Prentice said.

"And now a D.C.-based organization — whose mission, ironically, is to 'ensure religious freedom for all Americans' — is attempting to take away those freedoms of expression," he said. 

Riverside officials recognize that the case law is against them and are discussing whether to sell the 0.43 acres surrounding the cross, Councilmember Mike Gardner told The Press Enterprise.