Wednesday, August 03, 2005 | It’s over. The people have spoken yet another time and the cross will now continue to sit atop Mount Soledad until the next judge speaks on the matter. Then the previous rulings will be upheld, and it’ll be ordered removed once again. At that time our talk show hosts will mount another petition drive and we’ll have yet another referendum approved. This will keep on until the city cannot find another penny to spend tilting at windmills. I figure in a week or so.

Any would-be opponent, especially a politician, who supports honoring any court decision to take down the cross best be mum about it. Feelings are running high. About the only guy willing to speak out is the guy who filed suit.

He’s not only in the minority, he’s vilified as a demon. Although he has a first name, you wouldn’t know it from reading about him in the papers, listening to the radio, or watching TV. Phillip Paulson morphed into “atheist Paulson.” His epithet doesn’t even get a capital “A.”

Paulson the atheist would easily top any local poll of “most hated person,” especially when that cross thing comes up. And much more especially when the talk-show jingoists get going. Such animus when those “patriots” spit out “atheist.”

That animus hasn’t been diminished by the fact that since atheist Paulson won his 1989 suit to have an obvious religious symbol removed from public property, it has withstood every challenge since.

But who on earth is this demon? Is he so unpatriotic that he’d avoid service to save his own skin? Does he hate veterans so much that he insists a war memorial be torn down? Does he disrespect religion?

I know him well and the answers to are all “no.” To start with, far from being a demon, he’s a big jovial guy with a terrific sense of humor. In those gatherings where he’s not ostracized for refusing to go along with any one of America’s 1,350 versions of the one true God, he is generally the center of attention. He is one of those oddities, too. He listens to and laughs at other’s jokes, especially about himself.

And patriotic? If patriotism is measured by how one takes up arms for his country, atheist Paulson is super patriotic. He volunteered for the draft. Then he served as a light weapons infantryman and as a paratrooper from September 1966 to January 1968. This included an extension he volunteered for.

Paulson the atheist took part in dozens of major battles, including what may have been the bloodiest of the war, Dak To. During that battle, his company started out with 200 men and a mere 40 walked off the hill. More than half were killed. He carried many in his arms to the rescue helicopters. Despite all that he isn’t eligible to join the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Both require a belief in god. Phil the atheist isn’t religious but he’s honest. Although often urged to do so, atheist Phil refuses to cop out with the old “I believe in a higher power.”

Just for reference, his major detractors, talk show hosts Roger Hedgecock and Rick Roberts never served a day in the service let alone nearly 18 months of continuous combat. Another severe critic of atheist Paulson is Mark Larson of station KOGO. I left word at the station asking if Larson had served. I received no reply.

Hate the cross on the mountain? Well atheist Phil doesn’t like it there. That’s apparent, but he’s the only one who calls it what ought to be obvious to everybody. It describes it as an unmistakable symbol of Christianity. Most of those who fight so hard to keep it insist it’s a war memorial.

It may be now, but it was specifically not a war memorial when it was erected. Only after atheist Paulson filed his suit were the trappings of a memorial added.

Some go to great lengths to deny that it’s a Christian symbol. Back in the early ’90s Bill Kellogg, the head of the Mount Soledad Memorial Association even said, “It’s in the eye of the beholder.”

Phil the atheist’s answer that it is a Christian symbol was more direct and honest. Unfortunately, honesty gets left behind when religion is being defended.

That’s never more true than when an honest man is being savaged simply because he won’t pretend to believe that a woman who talked to a snake and other curious stories.

Keith Taylor is a retired navy officer. He can be reached at

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