A judge today blocked efforts to save a giant 43-foot cross atop San Diego’s Mt. Soledad, the center of a church-state battle that has divided veterans and embroiled the nation’s largest military community in controversy for 16 years.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Patricia Yim Cowett ruled that the claim that the cross is a military memorial that could be saved as a landmark is “a sham.”
In an election last summer, more than 75% of San Diego voters approved the plan to transfer city land under the cross to the federal government. It could then be declared a landmark.
Cowett ruled the ballot measure violated state law governing the transfer of city land.
“This is not over, not by a long shot,” said Phil Thalheimer after the decision this morning. Thalheimer owns a flying school and backed the litigation to save the cross.
The plaintiff, veteran Philip Paulson, complained that the huge cross on city land violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
The cross can be seen from many parts of the city. It was built in the 1950s by a private veterans group. Some have installed small private memorials to individual soldiers at the site. San Diego County is the home to more active duty U.S. military personnel than any other county in the nation.
The controversy goes back many years. In 1992, voters said the city should sell the land to a private group to satisfy a judge’s ruling in favor of the veteran. But the courts struck down the sale as rigged in favor of groups pledging to keep the cross.
A measure on November’s ballot involving a sale plan was defeated amid confusion over the measure’s wording. When the City Council earlier this year declined to deed the land to the federal government, a citizens’ group mounted a petition drive.
The group gathered sufficient signatures to force the council to deed the land to the federal government or schedule an election. The council chose the latter course, and on July 26, voters overwhelmingly favored preserving the cross.
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