Possible Solution in Mt. Soledad Cross Legal Battle

The 43-foot-tall Mt. Soledad Cross overlooks Mission Bay and La Jolla

After 25 years of lawsuits and court rulings about the cross on Mount Soledad, there is a proposed solution in front of Congress.

The giant cross stands 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.

Now, Congress is close to passing a defense bill that would include a transfer of the property from the federal government over to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association. If approved, it would 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, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review the decades-long legal dispute.

Congressman Duncan Hunter has authored the bill being considered by Congress. His office released a statement to NBC 7 Sunday reading in part: "This is a significant move. Transferring the memorial from the federal government to the association alleviates the criticism that it’s government controlled property."

James McElroy is an attorney who fought the cross for 20 years. He said even if Congress passes this bill, in order for it to be constitutional, it could not appear the government is solely trying to protect a religious symbol.

“If the government is just saying we got ourselves into this litigation mess and the courts have told us over and over and over the last 20 years that the cross whether it's on city property or on federal property is unconstitutional, and so we want to divest ourselves of this."

The 43-foot-tall cross was first erected on public land in San Diego in the 1950s. In 1992, the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association purchased the land and in 2006, the memorial was officially transferred to the Department of Defense. 

There are hundreds of plaques honoring veterans of all religions surrounding the base of the cross.

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