Letter to the Editor,
When the latest ruling came down on Dec. 12, 2013 in the 25-year-old case concerning the cross that has stood atop Mount Soledad since 1954, it was not a surprise to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association.
“While disappointing, this ruling was not unexpected,” said Association President and CEO Bruce Bailey, referring to U.S. District Judge Larry Burns’s reluctant ruling that the cross atop Mount Soledad would have to be removed.
“Judge Burns’s comments made it clear that, in his opinion, he was bound by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had given him edicts that he had to evaluate,” Bailey said. “Judge Burns reminded everyone that this opinion (meaning the 9th Circuit opinion) was the law of the case. Bailey thinks that Judge Burns gave a reasoned and thoughtful opinion. He was simply doing what his oath of office required of him: follow the constitution.
Burns’s earlier ruling in 2008 indicated that the cross was constitutional and did not need to be removed.
But the 9th Circuit sent it back to him, ordering that either the parties agree to a resolution or, if not, Burns was to provide a remedy.
The positive news from the decision is that the clear ruling now opens up the distinct possibility that the case may be heard by the U.S Supreme Court.
Previously, the Association had appealed to the highest court after the 9th Circuit’s ruling in 2012. But the Supreme Court declined at that time because there had not been a recommended remedy, i.e., a definitive ruling that provided a means to end the litigation.
Now the Association is hopeful that the Supreme Court will hear the case and, based on other recent court cases, that it could rule in favor of allowing the cross to remain at the site.
It was noted that Justice Samuel Alito said in his concurrence for the denial of review that the court might look at it after a remedy was in place. “We believe the court left the door open,” Bailey said.
The Association does not view the cross as a religious symbol but rather as an international symbol of sacrifice. It was erected in 1954 to honor the sacrifices of veterans who served during the Korean War.
William J. Kellogg, chairman emeritus of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, has spent much of his adult life defending the presence of the cross at the Memorial. It was approximately six years after Kellogg joined the Association that a case was filed on behalf of Philip Paulson, an atheist, contesting the presence of the cross.
“There were several dark days over the decades when we assumed the cross might need to come down,” Kellogg said. “But we have depended on the steady hand of leadership of our attorneys and the court system and I know the Association is eager to have this case reviewed by the highest court in our land.”
Over the years, the Memorial Association expanded its mission to honor veterans who served during time of war and, beginning in 2007, to all U.S. veterans, living and deceased. The Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial now includes black granite plaques honoring veterans who have served their country from the American Revolutionary War up through the current conflicts in the Middle East.
The Memorial is owned by the federal government and is managed by Navy Region Southwest, to whom the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association reports. But the Association’s role has been much more than a caretaker and maintainer of the property.
In addition to maintaining the Memorial, the Association raises funds for the site through plaque sales, membership dues and donations and receives no money from the government. It has constantly enhanced and improved the mountaintop memorial site. In 2001 it dedicated the Veterans Memorial, consisting of six concentric walls of black granite that now accommodate more than 3,400 individual veteran plaques. Earlier this year, it constructed an additional five walls to accommodate a demand for more plaque spaces over the next decade. The Association has also installed bollards, brick pathways, benches, bronze handrails, and an American flag (which members raise and lower daily).
Volunteer docents acquaint visitors (over 50,000 a year) at the site with its 360-degree city view, and with individual veterans plaques, among them U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald R. Ford and thousands of other veterans who proudly served our country.
Each year, the Association hosts two large veteran events at the site, a Memorial Day commemoration and a veterans ceremony during Veterans Week in November. In addition, over 40 individual Veterans Honor Ceremonies are held each year, along with reenlistment ceremonies, ship and battalion reunions and other special events.
In short, Bailey emphasized, “The Association has created a living, breathing Memorial where the public can honor our veterans from all across the country.”
Justice Alito called the Mt. Soledad case and the issue of the cross at a veterans memorial “a question of substantial importance.”
“This issue is bigger than just the cross at Mt. Soledad,” Bailey said. “If removing a cross in this arena is allowed to happen, what is next? It won’t stop here; it will have major ramifications all across our country.”
—Mt. Soledad Memorial Association