Second Mount Soledad case advances

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Attorneys representing the Mount Soledad War Memorial were in federal court April 14 to defend the monument—and its cross—against a lawsuit challenging its transfer from the city of San Diego to the U.S. Department of Defense.

The case is being brought by the Jewish War Veterans and Steve Trunk, a local atheist, who joined the case when former plaintiff Philip Paulson was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Paulson died last year.

Although the federal government is defending the cross, other legal organizations have offered their assistance.

Robert Muise, an attorney with the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, wrote a brief on the matter on behalf of two families, who memorialized their late Marines at the monument. The pair, Michael D. Martino and Gerald Bloomfield III, died in action in Iraq in 2006. The Thomas More legal brief included photos of families mourning at the memorial.

"Our brief demonstrates that tearing down the memorial cross will cause real, irreparable harm to these grieving families, as compared with the contrived 'harm' the ACLU will 'feel' because the memorial cross remains," Muise said of the case. "Indeed, it is the ACLU in this case who is creating the sort of religiously-based divisiveness that our Constitution was designed to prohibit."

The Thomas More Center has been a primary advocate for the cross in recent years, with most of the local legal work handled by attorney Charles LiMandri, who serves as the West Coast Regional Director for the center. LiMandri was part of a team that pushed to have the monument transferred to federal control to remove the state constitutional issues that threatened to bring down the cross.

The ACLU is arguing that the transfer was illegal and that the cross on the monument violates the "wall of separation of church and state."

The case is being presided over by federal District Court Judge Larry Alan Burns. No timetable for a decision was released, but regardless of his finding, both sides vow to appeal.