American Humanist Association Commends Mt. Soledad Cross Ruling, But With Caution
The controversial Mt. Soledad cross towers over recent war memorial additions.
Today the American Humanist Association (AHA) cautiously commended the reversal of a 2008 U.S. District Court ruling that the 43-foot Mt. Soledad cross war memorial was representative of all veterans, regardless of religion. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found the presence of the cross to be unconstitutional, but left open the issue of whether a modified version of the memorial that included some form of a cross would pass constitutional muster.
“This ruling sends a mixed message to the non-Christian community,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “The acknowledgement of the cross’s unconstitutionality is a deserved nod to millions of Americans who don’t feel represented by the Christian symbol. However, we find it concerning that the cross may still remain, if even in a modified form. What form of the cross could be considered all-inclusive? It isn’t plausible.”
Phillip K. Paulson, longtime American Humanist Association member, filed the original suit in 1989 (Paulson et al. v. City of San Diego et al). The AHA has worked with Paulson and other organizations in the years to follow, and wrote an amicus letter in 2006 arguing that the Mt. Soledad cross in the city of San Diego is an unconstitutional breach of the Establishment Clause and represents a clear preference for the monotheistic views of Christians.
“The Ninth Circuit’s decision reaffirms that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution does not permit prominent displays of religious symbols such as the Christian cross on public land because such displays send a message of governmental endorsement of religion,” said Bill Burgess, attorney and legal coordinator of the American Humanist Association’s legal arm, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
According to the opinion read by Judge M. Margaret McKeown, “Contrary to any popular notion, war memorials in the United States have not traditionally included or centered on the cross and, according to the parties’ evidence, there is no comparable memorial on public land in which the cross holds such a pivotal and imposing stature, dwarfing by every measure the secular plaques and other symbols commemorating veterans.” The opinion went on to conclude that, “the Memorial, presently configured and as a whole, primarily conveys a message of government endorsement of religion that violates the Establishment Clause. This result does not mean that the Memorial could not be modified to pass constitutional muster nor does it mean that no cross can be part of this veterans’ memorial.”
“The Court noted that including such a cross as part of a war memorial has the effect of excluding and alienating citizens,” Burgess said. “Including veterans, who are nonbelievers, stating that “there are countless ways we can and should honor [veterans] without the imprimatur of state-endorsed religion.””