Supreme Court declines to review San Diego church-state case

AP, Apr. 21, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) – The city of San Diego lost a government religion case Monday when the Supreme Court refused to consider whether city leaders wrongly sold a cross in a park to a memorial association.

An appeals court said San Diego violated the California Constitution in 1998 when it sold the 43-foot cross on a city-owned war memorial at Mount Soledad and a half-acre of land for $106,000 to the nonprofit Mount Soledad Memorial Association.

San Diego attorney Casey Gwinn told justices the city had “remained scrupulously neutral toward religion.” The court refused without comment to review the city’s appeal and a separate appeal filed by the memorial association.

“The purpose of the cross and its message to a reasonable observer is to connote peace, solemnity, and reverence for those who have risked and given their lives to defend our nation and the principles for which it stands. Were it otherwise, many national cemeteries, including the crosses at Arlington National Cemetery, would also have to be deemed unconstitutional,” Gwinn wrote in a court filing.

The city had been sued by Vietnam veteran Philip Paulson, a San Diego atheist who accused leaders of violating the constitutional separation of church and state by having a Christian symbol in a city park.

Paulson’s attorneys had argued that the city did not give groups that wanted to dismantle the cross a fair chance to bid on the property.

The cases are San Diego v. Paulson, 02-1093, and Mt. Soledad Memorial Association v. Paulson, 02-1101.

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