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2005 blog


Mt. Soledad Cross advocates more interested
in 'Christian triumphalism' than U.S. Constitution

San Diego Jewish Times, June 16, 2005

By Donald H. Harrison
If the Mount Soledad cross issue seems like one that never will go away, consider the possible religious retaliation faint-hearted politicians face at the polls if they stand up for the U.S. Constitution.  The issue could not have been drawn more clearly than it was by Christian truimphalist James Hartline in the Sunday, May 29, issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Hartline, according to that newspaper, asserts that “people like him will storm San Diego’s polls in two months to save the Mount Soledad cross—and swing the mayor’s race by voting for someone who shares their views.”

With so many politicians either agreeing that the cross needs to stay on Mount Soledad—or at least paying lip service to the idea—it’s hard to believe that the issue will have much effect in the July 26 special election.  Voters who want to keep the cross on Mount Soledad probably will divide their votes among numerous candidates, whereas, those who favor ending 16 years of litigation by moving the cross appear to have only one major candidate to vote for, Donna Frye.   That being the case, Frye could end up with a greater plurality than anyone else by offering an alternative—just as she surprised everyone in the last mayoral election with her nearly winning write-in candidacy.

The prospect is, therefore, that by the time pro-cross and anti-cross candidates actually square off, the July 26 ballot will have come and gone. That being the case, the mayoral runoff election may well turn on other issues.

In the Jewish community, we should be less concerned with the political tea leaves and more concerned with what is the right thing to do. A cross no more belongs on a public mountaintop as a symbol of the sacrifice veterans have made for our country than a Star of David or any other religious symbol does.

Perhaps reflecting an inherited ghetto mentality, members of the Jewish community—with two notably disappointing exceptions—generally have been laying low on this issue, apparently hoping that the controversy won’t become so bitter that disgruntled Christian triumphalists will start a pogrom against us.

The exceptions are Myke Shelby, now a candidate for mayor, and Phil Thalheimer, a former candidate for City Council who is expected to run again.  They’ve made a point of announcing that they are Jews who favor the cross.  I think that their political aspirations have clouded their judgments.

The problem with this issue is that it has been cast as a win-lose situation, where if one side wins, the other loses—a so-called “zero-sum game.”  I believe to the contrary there is a win-win solution, which we as a Jewish community ought to press for.  The cross should be “saved” by arranging for it to be moved to another, non-public mountaintop such as the sites of either the University of San Diego or Point Loma Nazarene College.  Both institutions are Christian-owned, and probably would relish having this piece of San Diego history on either of their campuses.  Regardless of which campus is chosen, the cross could be seen for miles.

In place of the cross on Mount Soledad, there should be a subscription campaign to build a monument that pays tributes to all U.S. war veterans.  May I suggest a giant representation of the famous photograph of the Marines raising the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi (Iwo Jima)?  Or, perhaps, a juried art competition would engender a new design for which San Diego would become world famous.

I know that for many Christians triumphalists, the issue is not veterans; the issue really is triumphalism.  By raising the cross on hilltops all over the county (Mount Soledad, Mount Helix, Battle Mountain, among them), Christian triumphalists are following an ancient custom known throughout Europe.  As much as the crosses are objects of inspiration for believers, they also serve the function of announcing that they stand over “Christian” territory, where Christianity has “triumphed” over other such other belief systems as Judaism, Islam, paganism, atheism, and others.

Such Christian triumphalism accounts for the remarkable advice some speakers recently gave to the City Council during its marathon hearing over whether to schedule the special election on the Mount Soledad cross matter.  They actually suggested that voting for such an election would be following “God’s law” which must take precedence over the U.S. Constitution, mere man-made law.

God’s law?  Does God really have a point of view about the Mount Soledad cross?  If people who believe that they can speak for God prevail on this issue, what will they be emboldened to do next?  Forbid the teaching of evolution in the schools?  Ban the sale of contraceptives?  Put television cameras into everyone’s bedrooms to make sure sex is performed according to religious precepts?  Mandate Christian prayer at all public events?  The possibilities are endless if Christian triumphalists are successful in their effort to turn America into a theocracy.

Please note that I use the expression “Christian triumphalists” rather than “Christians” because there are numerous Christians who believe that the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state was one of the greatest gifts the Founders gave to America.  For the most part in our history, we were spared the kind of governmental sectarianism that divides Protestant against Catholic in Northern Ireland; Hindu against Muslim in the Asian subcontinent, and Muslim against Jew in the Middle East.  Such battles drain the other countries’ energies and resources; whereas in America we thrive because we are unburdened by such sectarianism.

It will only prolong the litigation if city voters decide to “transfer” the cross to the U.S. Department of Interior—as was provided for by a midnight amendment inserted into an omnibus congressional bill by San Diego Republicans Duncan Hunter and Duke Cunningham, without a single public hearing.  James McElroy, the attorney for plaintiff Philip Paulson, has said if the measure is approved by the voters, he immediately will seek an injunction to stop the transfer.  The City of San Diego will be the defendant.  The taxpayers will be the losers. 

With our city already in financial ruins, this endless campaign to keep the cross on Mount Soledad not only jeopardizes the city’s ability to provide vital services; it further tears at the fabric of our Constitution.