The Mt. Soledad Cross: A Constitutional War Memorial

Mt. Soledad Cross, La Jolla

 

NOTE: The following is not the author’s personal opinion; the article merely reflects potential arguments for this viewpoint.

Many of the core foundations of our society stem from religious beliefs. Through the years, these beliefs have become social norms and no longer exhibit a truly religious function. Even if individuals recognize the religious undertones of specific ideas, images, or expressions, because of the historical aspect or commonality of these ideas, many religiously based norms have fallen into a more secular scope.1

The cross is a symbol that has been used by both religious and non-religious entities for years. Religiously, many individuals see the cross as Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. The Mount Soledad Cross was erected and rebuilt twice by private citizens, not by government entities. This cross sits as the centerpiece of an extensive war memorial representing the pain of loss and sacrifice of the brave men and women who honorably represented this nation as members of the U.S. Military. Admittedly, this cross did have some religious base when it was erected; however, it was not the sole purpose.  As noted by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, “Simply because there is a cross or a religious symbol on public land does not mean that there is a constitutional violation.”2 This cross does not lack in constitutionality because it is now a Veteran’s War Memorial, regardless of the initial purpose of the cross.3  This cross is making that slow adaptation and adjustment to the times, and we should look at what the Memorial means now and its effect today—not what it might have meant 90 years ago.

Many recognize the cross as recognition of a lost life. Here, the cross that stands on Mount Soledad represents the mourning of military lives lost, with no specific significance to each individual’s religious beliefs. To personalize the memorial to specific individuals and their personal religious beliefs, there are “approximately 2,100 black stone plaques honoring individual veterans, platoons, and groups of soldiers.”4 These plaques include images of each individual’s religious faith, if the person’s family requested one.  Further, this memorial is a historical symbol that has been around for a longer period of time than many of us have been alive. The first cross was erected in 1916, and in 1952 the Mount Soledad Memorial Association was granted authority to maintain the upkeep of the cross.  The U.S. Government has continuously maintained religious relics due to their historical significance. Even if this was a religious relic and not a memorial, it has enough historical significance where it should be allowed to continue to stand.

In this case, the foundation of this cross may have started with Christian undertones, but as time passed, the area was revamped and heavily restructured to “become the centerpiece of a more extensive war memorial.”5 This is not a religious relic; the centerpiece does not convey the idea that the government is establishing or forcing religious beliefs upon the masses because individuals today look at the cross as simply a piece of a larger Veteran War Memorial.

In practicality, this historical image does not represent government indoctrination or specific support of religion, especially as the Memorial was erected by private entities and is largely funded by a private entity, Mount Soledad Memorial Association.6 Few individuals likely look upon this symbol of sacrifice and believe the Government is trying to oppress their beliefs or force Christianity on them. If the cross moved just to the end of the public land onto private property, and individuals did not realize this was private property, they would likely not think differently about the cross. The few who may be offended would likely be offended regardless of its location. This should not outweigh the historical and positive effects of this memorial. This memorial does not encourage religious devotion or infringe upon the rights of others. There are “no benches immediately adjacent to and facing the cross, nor [are there] any other fixtures or devotional” invitations to revere this cross.7 Overall, this is a Veteran’s War Memorial, and the cross is simply a centerpiece of the greater image of sacrifice and love of country.

“When the cross is considered in the context of the larger memorial and especially the numerous other secular elements, the primary effect is patriotic and nationalistic, not religious,” noted U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns.8 The war memorial, including the cross standing at the center, is not unconstitutional. The price of freedom is not free; this memorial helps us to never forget.

1 A Christmas tree is no longer seen as a religious symbol.  However, most individuals understand the tree is grounded in the Christian faith and an arguably important aspect in the celebration of Christ’s birth. See County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989) (noting that the Christmas tree is no longer a religious symbol, though it once was).
2 Trunk v. City of San Diego, 629 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2011).
3 In 2006, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to transfer legal title of the property to the Federal Government as a Veteran’s War Memorial. Dana Wilkie, Senate Votes to Put Mount Soledad Cross in Federal Hands, San Diego Union Trib., Aug. 1, 2006, available at http://legacy.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20060801-1730-cnssoledad.html.
4 Trunk, 629 F.3d at 1103.
5 Id.
6 Id.  
7 Judge Rules Mt. Soledad Cross Constitutional, WorldNetDaily, July 30, 2008, http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=71003.
8 Trunk v. City of San Diego, 568 F. Supp. 2d 1199, 1217 (S.D. Cal. 2008).

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