Mount Soledad cross violates the US constitution

by Randy Wilde

Courtesy of Wikipedia
Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Constitution is not the infallible and timeless blueprint for life many Americans see it as. A very strict interpretation of the Constitution is not always the best way to judge what is best for our country and people in the here and now.

It’s not even possible to guess the intentions of our supposedly saintly and prophetic founding fathers, and doing so might not even be useful. But there are times when the Constitution simply makes sense.

The First Amendment, including its clauses protecting the freedom of religion, has helped maintain America’s title as the land of the free. The separation of church and state is a central principle of our democracy, preserving our spirit of diversity, tolerance and impartiality. The struggle to hold fast to this principle has manifested itself in very different ways throughout our nation’s history, and now an important chapter of this history is unfolding right in our backyard.

Controversy has surrounded the Mount Soledad cross for decades, with continuing litigation since 1989. The giant cross on Mount Soledad in La Jolla was designated as a war memorial in 1954. Since then, four court rulings have deemed it unconstitutional by California and federal law, in 1991, 1993, 1994 and the latest earlier this month by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

As the cross has been maintained on government-owned land at taxpayers’ expense, it violates the California Constitution’s No Preference clause and represents extensive entanglement of church and state in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Yet after numerous denied appeals, the matter is expected to finally be decided by the Supreme Court. The only accomplishment from this long struggle to delay the inevitable removal of the cross is a giant waste of taxpayer money. There is no point in trying to weasel our way out of removal yet again. Not even another ruling, this time by our nation’s highest court, could make that fact any clearer. All the clever wording and legal maneuvering has to end. The cross is clearly unconstitutional, but more importantly, it’s just plain wrong.

Congressman Duncan Hunter and several other San Diego representatives have sponsored a bill, the War Memorial Protection Act, in response to the unfavorable Jan. 4 ruling. The bill would explicitly protect war memorials with religious symbols. Hunter defends it as “a symbol of military service and tradition,” calling the ruling “a disservice to anyone who has ever served in America’s armed forces.”

Assuming that all soldiers who have sacrificed for our freedom would wish to be remembered through a Christian religious symbol is a disservice to our armed forces and American democracy. There is no reason why those deserving of our utmost respect and gratitude cannot be honored without a cross. As Hunter and others seem to realize, it is not the cross or religion that gives the memorial its meaning, but the memory of sacrifice and service. Connecting the two is both un-American and dangerous.

Mixing service in our nation’s armed forces and religious symbolism sends a false message about our country, not to mention that our men and women in uniform now face a threat from religious extremists spouting rhetoric of religious war and accusations of a new “crusade.” How can we maintain the moral high ground and avoid accusations of crusading if we continue to raise crosses rather than secular monuments on government-owned land to honor our fallen soldiers?

Cross supporters fear a snowball effect resulting in a campaign to wipe clean any symbol of religion from war memorials. There is a less-than-subtle difference between a cross on an individual grave or other such markings and a giant cross on a mountain top. The problem with Mount Soledad is the cross is meant to be the central structure and symbol of a “war memorial.” For a country based on freedoms such as of religion, an oversized religious symbol is not even a remotely appropriate way to honor national heroes on a public memorial.

If you happen to be of the Christian faith, I know it is hard to support the removal of Christianity’s most important symbol, but try to step back and imagine what it would be like to look up on a mountain memorial to the guardians of your nation and see a giant Buddha statue, a Muslim crescent or a Star of David.

Here’s a common sense thought: Move the cross a few hundred feet down the road to the Episcopal Church, which has agreed to take it. A more appropriate monument to honor our armed forces could be raised at the memorial site. Those who wish to visit the cross may still do so, and those who want a secular monument will have it while the government smoothly untangles itself from the situation. Would that be so intolerable?

—Randy Wilde is an international security and conflict resolution junior.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.