San Diego: No Longer At Cross-Purposes With The Constitution?

A 16-year battle over a 43-foot-tall cross on public land in San Diego ended Tuesday when the San Diego City Council voted not to transfer the cross to the federal government, reported the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Mount Soledad cross was ordered removed in 1991 by a federal judge in response to a lawsuit. As in many cases involving the public display of religion, San Diego had attempted to transfer the land to a private entity as an end-run around the Constitution. After a 1994 attempt at selling the cross was nullified by a federal court, the city tried again in 1998 to sell the cross for $106,000 to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association.

Such sales violate the First Amendment because the deal was clearly designed to favor bidders who assured the state that the cross would be preserved. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of this ruling, and the city was again left wondering how to circumvent the law.

When the issue went before voters last November, they overwhelming voted not to let the city again attempt to resell the land. The city council resolution authorizing the referendum had mandated the removal of the cross if the voters chose not to sell.

Left without the support of the community, advocates of the cross attempted to transfer the land to the federal government in a last-ditch effort to avoid compliance with the Constitution.

Last week, the city attorney issued an opinion declaring that such a transfer would clearly violate the state constitution because such a move would only take place for the religious purpose of preserving the cross.

Fortunately, the city council ended the fiasco by voting against the federal transfer scheme.