Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Sunday Mystery To Ponder

L.A. Times story yesterday on the ongoing battle over the 43 foot cross atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego. The cross was slated for removal by judicial order, but Congress passed a bill in 2006 and President Bush signed it, "transferring the property to the federal government as an official war memorial."

"On walls surrounding the cross are 2,000-plus plaques memorializing the lives of service personnel, including soldiers who served in the Spanish-American War and Marines killed in Iraq.

"Then in late July, a new judge issued a ruling that seemed to wash away all the previous rulings that had favored the plaintiffs. [i.e. unconsituttional intrusion of religion on public property.]

"U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ruled that Congress had taken the property not to advance Christianity, but to maintain the cross as an integral part of a war memorial. As such, he reasoned, there was nothing unconsitutional about the cross.

"In a 36-page opinion, Burns, a graduate of San Diego's Point Loma Nazarene University, ruled that a cross doesn't necessarily have to be seen as a religious symbol:

"The Latin cross is, to be sure, the preeminent symbol of Christianity, but it does not follow that the cross has no other meaning or significance. Depending on the context in which it is displayed, the cross may evoke no particular religious impression at all." . . . .

"The cross has a broadly-understood ancillary meaning as a symbol of military service, sacrifice,and death; it is displayed along with mumerous purely secular symbols in an overall context that reinforces its secular message."

Needless to say, " . . . . .the ACLU, representing several plaintiffs including the Jewish War Veterans aof the Unites States of America, has appealed Burns' ruling to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals."

Now, that's a good one. The Latin cross is now understood as a symbol of military service? The Latin cross "may evoke no particular religious impression at all? "

Really. I guess when President Bush used the words "crusade" in speaking of his war in Iraq, he wasn't kidding. Our soldiers must all now be wearing shoulder patches bearing a cross? Or heading into battle carrying the American Flag surmounted by a cross and singing "Onward Christian Soldiers?"

And, pray tell, what "secular impression" does a cross give that doesn't involve a "christian" meaning that relates to death, resurrection, and/or salvation of a particular type, all relating to. . . uh . . .Christ?

If, instead of a 43-foot cross atop Mt. Soledad, what would happen if they had replaced that with a 43-foot Star of David? Why wouldn't that be seen as "a symbol of military service, sacrifice and death. . .?" And surely the Star of David has a "secular impression" not associated with a particular religion? Ditto for the Star and Crescent?


O.K. There's your challenge. In what way is the cross a "secular" sign of military service that doesn't "evoke" a "particular religious impression at all?"


franc4 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
franc4 said...

That's a reasonable challenge, but why is the cross such a hang-up with folks....or, in fact, Christianity itself? Did someone take away "freedom of Religion" lately? If one is solid in their OWN faith (if they have one at all) it shouldn't be a problem....right?

The symbol you should REALLY be concerned with is the one resting on top of your local Mosque. When the Muslims take over the world (which I'm sure you know is their goal and the one they are silently working towards as we discuss the cross)you won't have the right to challenge their symbol...unless you have a death wish.

If you think me an alarmist, you haven't been paying attention to England....their FIRST target.

franc4 said...

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their "legislature" should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.


*PG-13 said...

I'm not sure what to make of franc4's seemingly contradictory pcomments.

These are interesting and challenging times. Fundamentalism seems to be taking root and thriving in these times. Fundamentalism comes in many colors. Any zealot acting for his beliefs - be they religious or political or whatever - creates yet another form of fundamentalism. While the most commonly recognized forms of fundamentalism are the religious fundamentalists including Muslim, Christian, Judaism, .... you name the religion, there's a fundamentalist sect. Often many fundamentalist versions. Even the Chinese claim the root of the problems in Tibet are due to Tibetan Buddhist fundamentalism. Fundamentalist Buddha? Go figure. The certitude of fundamentalism makes for easy transference to the realm of politics. So it shouldn't be surprising when the lines between religious fundamentalism and politics becomes blurred. So - using the term just a little loosely - we have fundamentalist Communists (think the Red Guard and Chairman Mao's little red book), fundamentalist Capitalists (think Ayn Rand), fundamentalist this and fundamentalist that. This is just to clarify that we are talking only about religious fundamentalists. Right? Something Thomas Jefferson never had any confusion about. Mr Jefferson, nor President Jefferson, ever made distinctions between Islamic fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists. Granted, he probably didn't know much about Islam. No, scratch that. He was a voracious reader and a reader of history and culture so I'm sure he could probably lecture us all on the history and roots of the world religions of his day. He just didn't think they belonged in government. And I seriously doubt he would change his mind today. So please don't confuse a Democratic Fundamentalist or a Republican Fundamentalist with a Religious Fundamentalist. (Curious how those two labels - Democratic Fundamentalist and Republican Fundamentalist - might be interpreted by Jefferson today. I wonder whether he would even try to discern a difference? And he would argue they have nothing to do with how the terms might be interpreted today.)

Now regarding the Mt Soledad Cross. A little context: Even Wikipedia has an extensive entry for it. I'm very familiar with it. I spent a lot of my youth, adolescence and college years in and around San Diego. A couple of the plaques mounted in 'the new' Veterans Memorial honor my relatives. I visit it whenever I'm in town. Its a beautiful place to sit and admire the view. From the south side you look down on Mission Bay, downtown San Diego, the harbor and you can even see Tijuana on a clear day. From the north side you look down on La Jolla Shores, UCSD, the Torrey Pines cliffs and, on a clear day, you can discern the beach communities stretching northward towards Oceanside. It's worth checking out.

But do not be fooled or misled. While the Mt Soledad setting is beautiful. And peaceful. And the memorial plaques interesting and appropriate. (If you look closely you will see many famous and familiar names and portraits honored). The cross is very much a Christian cross. To call it a Latin Cross to disassociate it from its history as the Mt Soledad Easter Cross is just a ploy to save it. A goodly percentage of the population in San Diego like having the cross there. Depending on how you interpret some past elections relating to the cross that percentage is a good sized majority. That doesn't mean they are relating to it as a Christian cross or a Christian site or anything else Christian. It just means that its a landmark that most of them have grown to like. A familiar piece of history. So where and how do you draw a line around and choose to save - or not - such landmarks? How do you disassociate a place from its history? Of course some Christian churches will demand the right to continue holding Easter sunrise services at The Cross because it is a cross on the top of a hill and they've been holding services there since .... 1954? Any attempt to assign a secular value to it as a sign of military service or anything else is just a smoke screen to 'Save the Cross'. Dang, even the creation of the war memorial itself was largely a ploy to preserve The Mt Soledad Cross. So yes there are many who relate to the cross as a religious symbol. But there are also very many who relate to it as a historical site. And a tourist destination. In all the years I've visited the site I've seen thousands of visitors. A good percentage of them camera toting visitors from out of town including Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Europeans, Australians and everywhere else. you get the idea. They all come to admire the view and many sit to be quiet and feel the wind and the sun on their face. But aside from the sunrise religious services on Easter morning I've never seen anybody praying. Meditating or silent prayer perhaps. But nothing overt.

I should also note that Dr Seuss' home was very close to the cross. I always kinda hoped he would write a book about it as only he could. What a hoot that would have been. I'm guessing the title alone would have put this all into proper perspective.

*PG-13 said...

I should have said Theodor Geisel, most famously known as Dr. Seuss, lived near the cross. So as not to confuse him with the real Dr Seuss living in La Jolla at the same time who was an Austrian who worked on the German Atom bomb. He also played key roles in developing radiocarbon dating and measurement of the Greenhouse Effect. Interesting history there. So see, it all really does relate doesn't it?

Churadogs said...

PG-13, you raise an even more interesting question: Instead of designating this a Military memorial (a ploy to save the cross) why not designate it a HISTORICAL monument, of which the cross is Historically appropriate? I'm trying to think if there's any churches that are designated historical monuments that are on public property. That would put a cross in context,history-wise (our mission is privately owned, so not an issue) Also, graveyards, even large public ones, don't have one Ginormous cross towering over the graves . . . I don't think . . . and those buried there get the approrparite religious symbol on their individual headstones. Hmmm, you've raised another puzzle.

The problem with this issue is the very human presumption that everyone's just like ME, so what's O.K. for ME should be O.K. with everyone else. And when sombody objects -- over this issue, for example -- the huffing begins: What do you mean?? How can a cross insult anyone? OF COURSE a cross can't insult anyone unless they're nuts, EVERYONE (like ME) doesn't have a problem with this, because EVERYONE is "Christian" and we live in a "Christian Nation" and so forth.

Then, imagine what would happen if the city took down the cross and put up a giant Star of David, then blandly claimed it wasn't a religious symbol. . . can't you hearing the caterwalling from here?

I just found it totally bizarre that the judge would find there were other meanings for a cross than a specific religious context.

Maybe what he should have said was the point you brought up, this is a "historical" place and as such, should be see in light of its past use (Easter (Christian) place of worship -- by the way, was it private property when the Easter Services were held there? Or public property? Are easter services still conducted up there?)or some such historical context.

Well, the puzzle remains: What on earth was the judge thinking?

Richard LeGros said...

Good Morning All,

Below I have pasted a section out of the latest Taxpayer's Watch newletter. It will help explain the TW lawsuit.
Please contact me at if you wish to have TW newsletters emailed to you.


We had to do illegal things - TW is mean to us!

Your Taxpayer Watch lawsuit is about holding Julie Tacker, Lisa Schicker, Chuck Cesena, Steve Senet, and John Fouche accountable for illegally spending approximately $2,000,000.00 your tax dollars.

Over the 2 years since Your TW lawsuit for waste was filed, Cesena, Fouche, Schicker, Senet, and Tacker have attempted to escape liability by simply ignoring the facts, rewriting CSD financial history, or simply denied any wrongdoing when all else has failed.

All 5 are clearly struggling to avoid acknowledging their responsibility and their defense in Court has not had much success. Attorney's for the 5 argue that they have complete discretion on how money is spent, and even if their decisions did result in the CSD bankruptcy, it's all the fault of Taxpayers Watch. This wild claim involves a confusing and often contradictory tale claiming that members of TW either forced Cesena, Fouche, Schicker, Senet, and Tacker to take illegal and unethical actions or, TW didn't do enough to stop the CSD5 from doing reckless and unethical things.

The first test of this "blame someone else" defense strategy came in August when attorney's for Cesena, Fouche, Schicker, Senet, and Tacker attempted to ask Judge LaBarbera to allow them to file a cross complaint against Stan Gustafson, Richard Legros, Gordon Hensley, and Joyce Albright. However, Judge LaBarbera was not confused by the strategy and on August 11 ruled in favor of TW denying the CSD5 permission to file a countersuit. In addition the Judge's decision affirmed TW's position that these 5 can be held personally liable to repay public funds that have been improperly spent.

While TW remain encouraged by this victory, sadly Cesena, Fouche, Schicker, Senet, and Tacker continue to ignore the key question: "What happened to the Assessment Payment and Fire Payment made in April of 2006?"

On April 10, 2006 Los Osos property owners paid their property tax to the County. Included in that payment was $759,000 restricted to cover our obligation to CDF for fire and emergency service, as well as an additional $715,000 restricted for our Wastewater Bond Assessment payment.

However, according to documents submitted to SLO Superior Court, Lisa Schicker claims that in June 2006 the District had insufficient funds to pay the CDF contract. A similar confession is made to explain the inability to pay the Wastewater Bond Assessment when due in September 2006.

Your Taxpayers Watch attorneys Kate Neiswender and Phil Seymour expect to hear in open Court why the CSD5 didn't have the $1.4 million of restricted funds only one month after the tax payers provided it!

*PG-13 said...

Ann asked > by the way, was it private property when the Easter Services were held there? Or public property? Are easter services still conducted up there?) or some such historical context.

I'll cut & paste a few select pieces from the wikipedia citation then add some commentary below:

> A cross has been on the site since 1913. In 1916 by Ordinance No. 6670, the Mt. Soledad Natural Park became dedicated city owned parkland. The Mt. Soledad Natural Park was dedicated and intended to be enjoyed by all citizens as a public park.

Three differently shaped Christian crosses have been constructed since 1913 on City government property at the apex of Mt. Soledad (Mt. Soledad Natural Park) in the community of La Jolla.

(1) The original wooden cross on Mt. Soledad was erected in 1913 by private citizens living in La Jolla and Pacific Beach, but was stolen in 1923; later that year it was affixed back in the ground in Mt. Soledad Natural Park only to be burned down by the Ku Klux Klan.
(2) The second cross was erected in 1934 by a private group of Protestant Christians from La Jolla and Pacific Beach. This sturdier, stucco-over-wood frame cross was blown down by blustery winds in 1952.
(3) The third cross, 29 feet (9 m) tall on top of a 14-foot (4 m)-tall stepped platform, was installed in 1954. It still stands today.

In 1998, after the sale by the City of the cross and the land it stands on to the nonprofit Mount Soledad Memorial Association, the cross was transformed into being the centerpiece of a newly erected Korean War Memorial.

So the park has been City owned property since 1916. But the first cross was erected in 1913. So it appears the cross pre-dates the park. I'm sure some lawyer has the complete history stashed away in their files. (I'd never heard about the KKK event. That's a piece of San Diego history not taught in the local schools ;-) Apparently the first formal Easter Sunrise Service was held in 1954 when the latest manifestation of The Cross was dedicated. I can almost guarantee there were Easter sunrise services prior to that dedication but perhaps not so formally recognized. There were annual Easter morning services every year up until ~1996 when a secular group realized no permits had been applied for or issued for Easter morning services for years. "It was simply assumed by the city that the park would be reserved for these services. (1). So the group jumped at the chance to reserve the site for a "The Park Belongs to Everyone" secular sunrise celebration of inclusion. You can imagine how that went over with the Christian celebrants. Hint: it wasn't particularly Christian or celebratory. To my knowledge there hasn't been a formal Easter service on the site in recent years. The early risers have moved on to another hill top in San Diego (Mt Helix) with its own big white Christian Cross where Easter services are less controversial.

As noted in the wiki citation the Mount Soledad Memorial Association acquired the small parcel of land immediately surrounding the cross for a Korean War Memorial in 1998. Like its name, the Korean War Memorial, is a bit of an odd duck. Despite its name it is not reserved for Korean war veterans. Any American - living or deceased - who has honorably served in the "US Armed Services during a time of war, recognized conflict or crises as recognized by the DoD war, campaign or National Defense Service Medal" can be honored with a plaque. That makes for some interesting qualification criteria. For example, if you were in the Merchant Marine during WWII you're in. Any other time you're time not. A Cold War Certificate alone does not qualify a veteran. Viet Nam, yes. Cold war Germany, no. Not sure about the hours of the Cuban missile crisis. The Board of Trustees does allow for discretionary exceptions. I mean, who would deign not to include Bob Hope in any memorial? (West Wall F, row 1, plaque 40). No, G.W. hasn't made it yet.

Until now I didn't realize just how big the Mt Soledad Natural Park is. I had always assumed the park was that area at the top of the hill around the cross including the access road. The park is really much larger. The full extent of the park is really quite large (see google maps here). This suggests that as the huge piece of reserved park space becomes more and more valuable as a park the contention over the religiousity of The Cross is going to increase too. Stay tuned. More news in March.

Mike Green said...

Crosses? We don't need no Crosses!
See my travel update on North Dakota!

Click on my name.

Churadogs said...

PG13 sez:"later that year it was affixed back in the ground in Mt. Soledad Natural Park only to be burned down by the Ku Klux Klan."

Hahahahah. Were they burning the cross in hope of scaring Neeegroes out of town? Or did they hold a rally and just needed any old cross to burn so they could march around in mumbling in their white sheets and that was the handiest cross because some dunce forgot to bring the KKK "burning" cross?

And sez:"(I'd never heard about the KKK event. That's a piece of San Diego history not taught in the local schools ;-)"

As a graudate student at Cal State Long Beach, was helping curate a show of photographers and photographs and in the batch was an amazing photo of a huge KKK rally at night complete with burning crosses & etc, taken in Long Beach at one of the oil fields in the 1930's. Yep. KKK wasn't just a southern thing.

and sez:"The park is really much larger. The full extent of the park is really quite large (see google maps here). This suggests that as the huge piece of reserved park space becomes more and more valuable as a park the contention over the religiousity of The Cross is going to increase too. Stay tuned. More news in March."

I suspect you're right. What's always a puzzle to me is how hard "christians" cling to keeping THEIR crosses in places where they're not really appropriate. I mean, this "military memorial" seems totally contrived, to the point of having to logically turn themselves inside out, all to try to keep a cross in place. Why? That's the puzzle. I mean, do "christians" feel that if an inappropriate cross is removed, the entire religion will disappear, sort of like when the last native speaker of some long-lost language dies, the language itself dies?

Personally, I don't think "christianity" is in danger of going extinct if a ginned up "war memorial cross" is taken down in a huge secular park where people of all races, creeds, religious beliefs are allowed to climb to the top and look around or pray or dance or sing or do anything they wish, short of stripping naked and doing the naughty, or having a KKK rally and burning something down?

So, You're right. The lawyers will stay employed for the foreseeable future and judges will turn meaning inside out in a effort to keep the status quo.

*PG-13 said...

Ann said > What's always a puzzle to me is how hard "christians" cling to keeping THEIR crosses in places where they're not really appropriate. I mean, this "military memorial" seems totally contrived, to the point of having to logically turn themselves inside out, all to try to keep a cross in place.

I gotta admit. The big white cross is a nice landmark. And appreciated by the community despite all the religious issues and contention. As is the veteran's memorial. But conjoined on public land they make an unsettling odd couple. As you note it is a contrived association. For a military memorial better to raise a flag pole instead of a Christian/Latin Cross. Saving the cross by surrounding it with plaques honoring military service in times of crisis just mixes things up unnecessarily. I have a humble suggestion. A suggestion that perfectly reflects the mentality surrounding this contentious issue. Keep the memorial but replace the Christian/Latin Cross with a WWII era pillbox with a decommissioned artillery piece pointing out towards the ocean. There were a number of such buried hardened gun emplacements not far from the site so they are historically appropriate. And what better symbol than an armored bunker to represent the memorial? As well as the arguments for and against the appropriateness of the cross?

Churadogs said...

Hmmm, good suggestion, a ginormous flag. Patriotic, associated with military, honors the dead, etc. while leaving crosses out of it. Likely that'd be too sensible.

franc4 said...

It would be interesting to see how you two would address the many crosses at Arlington National Cemetary.....and those poor folks who live in Belgum must be driven nuts with all them crosses in Flanders Field.kotuftjh

franc4 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
*PG-13 said...

A few points in response to franc4: The big white cross on Mt. Soledad was a bone of serious contention long before it was turned into a veterans memorial. Whether a large Christian Cross should play such a central role in a public park is issue #1. Whether a large Christian cross should play such a central role in a veteran's memorial is issue #2.

(#1) The Mt Soledad Natural Park was granted to the city in 1916 and was dedicated for the use and enjoyment by all citizens. The park consists of about 170 acres of hilly undeveloped natural shrubland. There is a flat area at the top accessable by a quarter mile paved road leading out to a flat space and the viewing area. On this flat space over the years a number of different crosses were built, burned down, rebuilt, blown down and the last one rebuilt in 1954. At which time the cross - not the park - was dedicated to "Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" on Easter Sunday. The cross was used for decades for Easter morning sunrise serice. It was known as and marked on maps as 'The Easter Cross'. As you know I pointed out that many people including many non-Christians don't have a problem with the cross per-se when it is viewed as a landmark. They do question whether a city park should be called The Easter Cross with dedicated 'Christian' services whenever 'Christians' choose to claim the park. Please note, I'm a Christian and I agree with them.

(2) In 1989 when the issue of the big white Christian cross on Mt Soledad escalated into a heated battle over exactly this issue - whether a city park should be dedicated an Easter Cross - a small area immediately under and about 40 feet around the cross was granted to the Koreans Veteran's Memorial. The memorial consists of a little more than half an acre out of the 170 total acres of the park. However it is the only developed part of the park and occupies and serves as the prime central focus of the park. The grant and further development of a veterans memorial immediately surrounding the cross was for the express purpose of protecting the cross from the brewing litigation. Curiously, the veterans memorial was not dedicated on Memorial Day, VE-day, VJ-day, Veterans Day or even the 4th of July as might befit a war memorial. It was dedicated on Easter. Many question whether the memorial is serving the veterans or the cross. If it's serving the veterans why isn't there other symbology serving the veterans honored there who are not Christian?

Franc4 said > It would be interesting to see how you two would address the many crosses at Arlington National Cemetary.....and those poor folks who live in Belgum must be driven nuts with all them crosses in Flanders Field.

I think the many crosses at Arlington make for a truly exceptional memorial. Likewise Normandy. And I can only presume at Flanders Fields as well as I've never actually been there nor have I seen a good picture depicting the crosses you describe. At Arlington and Normandy each cross is dedicated to an individual veteran - except for the unknown soldier - and the cross represents the religion/belief/culture of that particular soldier. Stars of David honor Jewish soldiers. I know for a fact there are a few Crescents scattered about Arlington honoring Muslim soldiers. And I don't recall any big Christian crosses standing tall over the entire memorial. Indeed, I don't recall seeing any Christian crosses except for those on the graves. And I think that is appropriate. The soldiers buried in those cemetaries served (and died) representing America. Not Christianity.

BTW, there are over 15,000 Muslim soldiers serving in the US Armed Forces today. I'll bet a disproportionate share of them are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. What religious symbol do you propose to honor them with?

franc4 said...

*pg-13 asks,

"What religious symbol do you propose to honor them with?"

The Cresent/Star would be appropriate, I suppose, but;

"The star and crescent is a well-known symbol of Islam. It features prominently on the flags of many countries in the Islamic world, notably Turkey and Pakistan.

Contrary to popular belief, the symbol is not Muslim in origin. Rather, it was a polytheistic icon adopted during the spread of Islam, and its use today is sometimes controversial in the Muslim world.

The crescent and star are often said to be Islamic symbols, but historians say that they were the insignia of the Ottoman Empire, not of Islam as a whole.

It is important to keep in mind that Islam has few traditional symbols, and the crescent moon and star are not ones that are recognized by as traditional symbols by Muslims. The symbol is due to cultral diffusion and the spread of Islam to the Ottoman turks who ruled a large area and also put the crescent moon and star symbol on their flag. It has since become associated with Islam." maybe the American flag or the Eagle would do it.

I really don't mind what symbol one uses, but many have plenty to say about The Cross and Christianity. My belief is that if everyone followed the teachings of Jesus and the Word of God (The Bible), the world would be a more safer, joyful, loving place, but then, I am a Christian, not ashamed to admit it and very un-popular in some circles.

I further feel that the term "Government Land" is over stated. This land and the whole earth is Gods' "land" (creation). We are but caretakers of His property and when He tires of how we (mankind) are "taking care" of his property, He will "take it back".