Judge drops case against city of San Diego in Mount Soledad cross suit

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A federal judge has dismissed a year-old lawsuit against the city of San Diego for its transfer of the Mount Soledad War Memorial to the federal government. The memorial includes a large concrete cross, which opponents argue violates the state constitution.

In a 19-page ruling released Nov. 8, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said the city could not be considered a party to the case since it no longer owned the property. In addition, he also noted there was nothing inherently wrong with a cross on public land.

The city of San Diego was sued last year after the August 2006 land transfer to the federal government. Approved by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush, the transfer was made via eminent domain and placed into the federal war memorial program, removing the cross from state and local jurisdiction.

Philip Paulson, who died last year, was the original plaintiff in the cross case, which was filed more than 18 years ago. After Paulson became terminally ill, Vietnam veteran Steve Trunk joined in the new suit. Both men described themselves as atheists.

In the latest suit, the plaintiffs sought to have the cross removed from the memorial and asked the court to rule that the federal law allowing the monument's transfer was unconstitutional, according to City Attorney Michael Aguirre.

The federal aspects of the case, described by defense attorneys as minor, remain.

According to World Net Daily, Burns wrote that the cross and its public location was "not an Establishment Clause violation, nor was the government ownership or non-ownership of land on Mount Soledad, nor were mere efforts by officials or voters who wished the cross to remain where it was.

"Now (that) those violations have ended, he has no standing to complain about the manner in which they ended."

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which filed the amicus brief that argued for the successful jurisdictional ruling, said the decision will benefit more than local residents.

"This case has huge implications not only for San Diego and the West Coast, but for the entire nation," he said "We will continue to fight until we obtain a final judgment so that this time-honored war memorial—like the fallen soldiers it honors—can rest in peace."

Dacus said that Burns, after reviewing PJI's brief, ordered additional briefing from attorneys before making his Nov. 8 decision.

PJI affiliate attorney Pete Lepiscopo, who is based in San Diego and did the primary work on the PJI brief, lauded the broad-based work that went into protecting the landmark monument.

"We are very pleased with the court's decision and are hopeful that this epic legal battle will soon be resolved," Lepiscopo said. "There is a reason the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress, and the president intervened in this case to protect the Mount Soledad War Memorial: This nation honors those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure such public expressions of faith can continue in this country."

For more information, visit www.pacificjustice.org.