The American Civil Liberties Union announced today a lawsuit against the U.S. government on behalf of a Jewish War Veterans – a national nonprofit organization – and three local residents who contend that the recent transfer of the Mount Soledad Cross from the city to the federal government is unconstitutional.
The suit contends that the transfer, which took place earlier this month after Congress seized the property through eminent domain, violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The establishment clause provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
“The ACLU believes that religious symbols, even prominently displayed, are an important and constitutionally protected form of religious expression in the public sphere,” David Blair-Loy, legal director of the local said in a press release. “There is a huge difference between families and religious communities expressing their religious beliefs and the U.S. government – using all of its power, authority, financing, and property – to promote the beliefs of one faith over all others.”
The suit is the most recent salvo in a 17-year legal battle between the city and Philip Paulson, an atheist and Vietnam War veteran who challenged the constitutionality of the cross under state law. It is filed against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who oversees the Defense Department, which is now responsible for maintaining the cross.
Jim McElroy, Paulson’s attorney, said he was aware of, but uninvolved, in the ACLU’s effort.
McElroy, who has already filed a challenge to the constitutionality of the transfer in federal court, said he expects the ACLU’s filing to be consolidated with his own. He said the interest of the Jewish veterans group and the ACLU will help add resources and credibility to his argument.
“I feel like little David fighting Goliath who has suddenly had an army march in behind him,” McElroy said.