Mayor Jerry Sanders announced his support for transferring the entire memorial "” not just the cross "” to the federal government via eminent domain during a press conference at Mount Soledad on Thursday, May 11.
"This is not about a Christian symbol," Sanders said. "What this boils down to is preserving a nationally registered war memorial that is an integral part of San Diego history. The cross has been here for almost 100 years and the war memorial has been here for over 50 years. It's part of our social and cultural fabric."
Sanders appeared at the cross with Phil Thalheimer, the chairman of the Mount Soledad National War Memorial Association, which lobbied to place Prop A on the ballot last July to transfer the cross to the federal government. Prop A was struck down as unconstitutional, a ruling the city is appealing.
The American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization, and the House Armed Services Committee have also expressed support for President Bush taking the memorial.
Attorney James McElroy, who represents the plaintiff who sued the city 17 years ago to remove the cross, said he views Hunter's recommendations as senseless.
Even if the cross is transferred to the federal government, it still won't fall under the federal constitution, according to McElroy. The city is the entity asking the federal government to take the property so the court would still consider the action of the city, McElroy said.
"Which means it would fall under the same constitution that it's been looked at for the last 17 years "“ that's the State of California," McElroy said.
McElroy pointed to the Buono versus Norton case as evidence that the federal constitution would not preserve the cross, anyway. In that case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a cross at the Mojave National Preserve was unconstitutional.
"A cross on public property shows a preference for one religion over all others; for that reason it's unconstitutional," McElroy said.
McElroy is also skeptical about using eminent domain to transfer the war memorial to the federal government.
"You have to take the land for public purpose," McElroy said. "It's already a public park. What are you going to do, take a public park to make a public park?"
Meanwhile, Sanders has called for the city council to appeal the Ninth Circuit Court's injunction that the city remove the cross within 90 days or face a $5,000-per-day fine. Council will consider the issue on Tuesday, May 23 at 3 p.m. The deadline to appeal is June 2.
The mayor will travel to Washington, D.C., next week for various meetings, including one concerning the Mount Soledad memorial.
Mount Soledad was first used as a war memorial park in 1914, according to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association. The current cross was constructed in 1954 to honor veterans from the Korean War. In 1999, the association purchased the land surrounding the cross to construct the memorial walls, which hold plaques that are purchased to honor those who have served the country in the armed forces.