After more than 25 years of lawsuits and court rulings about the cross on San Diego’s Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial, the recent sale of a plot of land under the cross may be the final solution to the quarter-century church-and-state conflict.
Documents confirm the title for the half-acre plot of land beneath the Mount Soledad cross was transferred from the federal Department of Defense to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association on July 17 for $1.4 million. Bruce Bailey, president of the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, also confirmed the deal is in escrow. The Association said that money came from donations.
The giant cross – and topic of much debate over the decades – has stood on government-owned land overlooking Mission Bay and La Jolla and has been at the center of a legal battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
Back in December, Congress approved a bill authored by Congressman Duncan Hunter proposing the transfer of the property from the federal government over to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association in an effort to eliminate the concern by opponents that a cross on public property violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
In December 2013, a federal judge ordered the cross to come down, saying it violates the establishment clause of the Constitution by unlawfully endorsing one religion over others.
In July 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review the decades-long legal dispute.
James McElroy is a San Diego-based attorney whose clients have battled the cross for the past 20 years. On Tuesday, he told NBC 7 he is considering challenging the sale of the land at Mount Soledad, so the litigation on this ongoing controversy may not be over just yet.
Litigation challenging the cross on federal property is pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is being advised of the ownership change. There’s a chance the Ninth Circuit could reach out to the District Court for additional proceedings or take some other action.
So, although the property transfer is a done deal, it doesn’t necessarily mean the court battle has been put to rest. According to both sides of the issue, there are still legal hoops to jump through and this may not be resolved.
“The issue may be moot because there is no law that says that the memorial walls, including the cross, can’t be on private property,” Bailey told NBC 7.
“If this deal – this remedy phase – is put together in a way that perpetuates the government showing a preference than we have a problem with it,” McElroy said.
The Mount Soledad Memorial Association has overseen the maintenance of the memorial since its establishment in 1954 when the 43-foot-tall cross was first erected on public land in San Diego.
In 1992, the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association purchased the land and in 2006, the memorial was officially transferred to the Department of Defense.
The memorial site is home to more than 3,700 plaques honoring U.S. military veterans of all religions who served in various wars.