The Mount Soledad War Memorial in San Diego, now owned by the federal government, includes a 40-foot tall white concrete cross, first built by Korean War Veterans in the 1950s to commemorate their fallen comrades.
The federal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (known locally as the “Ninth Circus”) has ruled that the cross is unconstitutional.
The Mount Soledad Cross and the surrounding mountaintop War Memorial park with panoramic views of San Diego has been the site of decades of Veterans Day and Memorial Day observances as well as Easter Sunday sunrise services, and not a few late-night teenage make-out sessions.
The challenge to the cross came in 1989 from one atheist who was “offended” by the sight of it. The community has been plagued by that one offended atheist ever since.
After 22 years of multiple state and federal court cases (the attorney for the “offended” atheist told me, “The courts don’t care what the people think”), two citywide elections (in both the voters overwhelmingly supported the War Memorial and the cross), and three land-ownership transfers to try and satisfy changing “constitutional” tests, the cross is once again ruled “unconstitutional.”
The Mount Soledad War Memorial consists of more than the cross. Concentric concrete walls circle the cross, covered with 2,100 commemorative plaques of granite, each laser-etched with a tribute to a veteran from their families.
On one of those plaques is a picture of my Dad, Sgt. Lester Hedgecock, crouched behind a snow-covered Sherman tank during the World War II Battle of the Bulge.
Now the Ninth Circus wants to ignore the clear history of this community War Memorial and say the Mount Soledad War Memorial Cross is only a religious symbol, an impermissible government endorsement of a religion. The ruling requires the trial judge to hold further proceedings leading to tearing down the cross.
The Supreme Court should take up this case and, if it does, should overturn the Ninth Circus ruling which is wrong on the facts and the law.
The Ninth Circus is where the “offended” go to strip the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, remove the words “In God We Trust” from our currency, and drive all reference to God from any public place. It is the Atheist Circuit. It is the federal Circuit Court whose opinions are most often reversed by the Supreme Court.
The three judge Ninth Circus panel, in a 56-page opinion written by Judge M. Margaret McKeown, simply misstates the facts of the history of the Mount Soledad Cross and the War Memorial of which it is a part.
Sensing the weaknesses of its ruling, the panel’s opinion is replete with assurances that this cross is unlike the crosses etched into the headstones at any federal veterans cemetery (including Fort Rosecrans in San Diego), unlike free-standing crosses that appear at Arlington and other federal veterans cemeteries. Those crosses, those religious symbols, are OK. Mount Soledad is not. Really?
For us in San Diego, the Mount Soledad Cross is apparently also unlike the Shinto shrine on city-owned Shelter Island, where Shinto priests have rung a large bell to ward off evil spirits that threaten boat traffic in San Diego Bay.
It also apparently is unlike the pioneer-era Jewish temple, restored with public funds, which sits in a county-owned park, proudly displaying the Star of David.
These religious symbols are also apparently OK, although the distinction escapes common sense.
Muslim students breaking for prayer in a classroom (and segregated by gender) during the public school day at a San Diego public elementary school is also OK; Christian students reading the Bible during that same school day is not.
Some religious symbols on publicly owned land are unconstitutional, and some are not. The Christian Cross is unconstitutional but other religious symbols of other faiths are not. That’s the “logic” and the “law” of the Ninth Circus.
As a son proud of my father’s sacrifice for our country and proud of this community Memorial to his and thousands of other veterans’ sacrifice, let me say in print, and before the Human Events readers, that I will not allow the cross to be destroyed.
Every effort will be made to preserve the cross through the appeal process, but, failing those efforts, I will join thousands of people who will physically prevent the removal of that cross.
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