La Jolla’s Mount Soledad cross drama fills the pages of a new book

The Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial is the only memorial with photo engraved granite plaques, and war records dating back to the Civil War, according to retired Col. Robert Porter, a trustee from the Mount Soledad Memorial Association. Dolwain Green

By Joe Tash

To Robert LaCosta, the 24-year legal battle over the Mount Soledad cross includes many dramatic elements, from tension between generations, to disputes over the treatment of religious symbols, to respect for those who served in the military and died in battle.

After working on the story for 15 years, earlier this summer LaCosta published his novel about the long-running court case, called “Gamaliel’s Advice: Taking Down God.” The book was published by Thomas Nelson, and is available in bookstores and online.

LaCosta, 57, a resident of Albany, New York, frequently travels to San Diego to visit his brother, Paul, and his family, who live in Scripps Ranch.

He has often enjoyed visiting the cross atop Mount Soledad to admire the view and the peaceful setting. When he found out that some in the community wanted to take it down, he said, “I was shocked.”

He said he understands the viewpoint of those who say they’re not against religious freedom, but simply oppose religious symbols on public land (when the legal battle began, the cross was on property owned by the city of San Diego.)

Robert LaCosta is the author of ‘Gamaliel’s Advice: Taking Down God.’

“The trouble with that thinking is there are a lot of people who believe that particular symbol is intertwined with military sacrifice. So it’s not quite that simple,” LaCosta said in a telephone interview. “It’s almost like two trees growing together, you cut one and you cut the other,” he said.

The original lawsuit was filed in 1989 by Philip Paulson, a Vietnam veteran and atheist. But other veterans opposed efforts to take down the cross, and the case gained national attention as it worked its way through the courts. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, sending it back to the District Court in San Diego. A hearing is scheduled before U.S. District Judge Larry Burns on Oct. 15, LaCosta said.

The book focuses on two main characters, a World War II veteran who is determined to save the cross, and his granddaughter.

At times, the granddaughter — who is based on LaCosta’s niece, a Marine pilot — must endure teasing from her peers over her family’s involvement in the case, LaCosta said.

The book also has a Rancho Santa Fe connection, in the character of a young attorney who works for the City of San Diego and defends the veterans’ position. The attorney’s father bears a resemblance to Charles LiMandri, a Rancho Santa Fe attorney who has worked in court, with legislators and the political arena in an effort to save the cross, LaCosta said.

LiMandri said the book is a “good read,” and although LaCosta does take some “poetic license” with the story, he captured the essence of the legal case.

'Gamaliel's Advice' by Robert LaCosta

“I think he does a nice job kind of summarizing the long and involved history of the cross, particularly the litigation concerning the cross. The way he presents the litigation is accurate and understandable,” LiMandri said.

LiMandri said he expects the case to eventually come back before the U.S. Supreme Court, and it could be a springboard for deciding a range of similar cases, such as disputes over displays of nativity scenes at Christmas-time. “I think they’re waiting for this case,” LiMandri said.

LaCosta has also written a screenplay of the novel, which he hopes to see made into a film.

One aspect of the story that fascinated LaCosta was the way a symbol that had been accepted by the community for so many years suddenly came under fire. The Mount Soledad cross was constructed in 1954, and existed without controversy for more than three decades.

“That’s why a guy from New York got so entrenched in this thing,” he said. San Diego’s large population of active-duty and retired military may be one reason the fight has gone on so long, he said, noting that in another place, the cross might have been taken down years ago.

“I’d like to see San Diego portrayed as a city that stood its ground… it’s a great place that loves veterans,” LaCosta said.

The title of the book refers to Rabbi Gamaliel, a first-century teacher of Jewish law. In the New Testament, Gamaliel intervened on behalf of the apostles of Jesus when they had been seized and brought before the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish court.

“Gamaliel’s Advice” is LaCosta’s third book. Now a full-time writer, LaCosta worked for years in the hearing aid business, building up a chain of offices where clients were fitted with hearing devices. He has since sold the business.

Related posts:

  1. U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear Mount Soledad cross case
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  3. Soledad cross case headed to federal court
  4. Mike Huckabee signs holiday book at Warwick’s
  5. Author to discuss his biography on Hedy Lamarr in La Jolla

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Posted by Pat Sherman on Oct 9, 2013. Filed under A & E, Books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Comments for “La Jolla’s Mount Soledad cross drama fills the pages of a new book”

  1. Jeff Archer

    There is something missing from this article and this guy’s book that is crucial to the debate: when the ruling came down in 1991 that the cross was illegal, there was no veterans monument there. Only after the ruling did some people get together and try to subvert the case and created a veterans memorial.

    • While it is true that plaques were added, it was never in question that it was a Korean War Memorial since it was put up in 1954. Respectfully, the cross, while without a doubt the predominant Christian symbol, is still the most perfectly-matched symbol of giving one’s life for another. Veterans, especially those who lost comrades, view it that way. That’s a sacred viewpoint for most who have served. Additionally, research it and you will find that it was clearly and fairly auctioned off to the vets so that it would no longer be on public property, thereby removing any objections. But by the most ‘creative’ legal reasoning by a court with an anti-Christian bias, it was deemed the vets had an unfair advantage. I have met vets up there who served in Iwo Jima, and believe me, they had no unfair advantage there. Look them in the eye and tell them they can’t have a cross to remember their dead, no matter what conflict it was in. Again, I want to respect your opinion and those who don’t believe in anything or anyone higher than themselves, but please don’t infringe on those who do.

  2. Larry Linn

    The plaintiffs in the litigation were the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America. Why impose the cross upon them?

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