A mountaintop victory over the ACLU
If you didn’t hear about this last month, it’s for good reason. The media do not like publicizing defeats for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
A 27-year battle with the ACLU over the Mt. Soledad mountaintop cross at a Korean War veterans memorial in San Diego ended in a victory for American heritage. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a one-page ruling calling the case moot on Sept. 8 and directing U.S. district judge Lawrence Byrne to dismiss it, which he did on Sept. 13.
The rulings cite the Mount Soledad Memorial Association’s purchase of the 29-foot cross and the land beneath it from the Department of Defense for $1.4 million in July 2015. The transfer was facilitated by legislation sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a former Marine who represents California’s 50th District, which includes San Diego.
The ruling leaves intact the familiar sight of the imposing cross above the Interstate 5 freeway in La Jolla, and in effect sends the ACLU packing. Can’t you just see the poor, dejected ACLU lawyers stomping down the mountain and throwing their axes into the backseats of their hybrids?
The final outcome was not that surprising, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2010 in Salazar v. Buono, which approved the sale of federal property to private ownership at a California veterans cemetery. That case involved the Mojave Memorial Cross, which the ACLU tried to tear down on behalf of a retired federal park official who had moved to Oregon but said he was still offended by the 7-foot-high pipe metal cross.
Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund founder Charles LiMandri, who had opposed the ACLU in court since 2004 to keep the Mt. Soledad Cross, said, “We are delighted that the longest-running religious liberty case is coming to a successful conclusion. This 27-year case is proof positive that when people of good will work together for the common good, and persevere in their efforts against great odds, momentous victories can still be achieved.”
The ultimate victory goes to the veterans that built and maintained the Memorial, and all of us who honor their sacrifices and cherish the religious liberty they fought to preserve.
Beginning in 1989, the case ping-ponged among state and federal courts, Congress, the voters of San Diego County, the Defense Department, and many other parties. In defense of the cross, the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) filed a brief in 2006 at the California state appeals court and another three briefs later in federal courts.
In 2006, the city of San Diego transferred the property to the U.S. government, a move that the ACLU opposed. In response, the ACRU brief stated: “Surely, virtually no one in San Diego really thinks that by this transfer [of the memorial to the federal government] the city government means to adopt an official endorsement of Christianity and an official disapproval of other religions and city residents who adhere to them. Crosses are ubiquitous at every federal national veterans memorial in the country.”
The local chapter of the ACLU, which had led the fight to tear down the cross, appeared to concede that it was finally over. “I think this now resolves the case,” David Loy, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “The government doesn’t own the cross or the land underneath it anymore.”
“Veterans played a significant role in fighting the ACLU to preserve the traditional Crosses at Mt. Soledad and Mojave Desert Veterans Memorials,” wrote Rees Lloyd, a former ACLU staff attorney and co-founder and director of the Defense of Veterans Memorial Project of the American Legion Department of California, at NewswithViews.com.
That history needs to be known to inspire the same kind of commitment in other important ‘grass roots’ battles for the preservation of freedom and traditional American values against rich and powerful special interests, like the ACLU, who would destroy those values.
That’s something to think about when the ACLU comes to your town looking to lay waste to any lingering reminders of America’s Christian heritage.
Robert Knight is a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union.