The Cross Can Stay: Mt. Soledad purchase leads to lawsuit dismissal, Capital campaign underway to fund Memorial programs

Since the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association bought the government land on which the controversial cross sits above the National Veterans Memorial in July 2015, the two-decades-long legal battle over its constitutionality ended last month when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined the case is now moot. 

Since 1989, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others have argued that the cross should be removed from government-owned property because it represents one religion over others. Counter-arguing that the cross is a neutral symbol for memorials, the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association maintained that veterans from several religious backgrounds are represented in the now 4,400 plaques on the surround-wall beneath the cross.

Mt. Soledad Memorial Association president Lou Scanlon said that though the “wheels of justice turn slowly,” the Association was “very excited and pleased that these years of litigation are at an end.”

In July 2015, the Department of Defense sold the half-acre parcel atop Mt. Soledad in La Jolla to the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association for $1.4 million following the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, signed into law by Congress and President Obama in December 2014, calling for the sale of the property by the federal government to the Association.

When the sale was complete, the property became private, nullifying the argument that a religious icon was located on public property. An unopposed motion filed on Aug. 25 by the U.S. government and the Memorial Association states, “The United States and the plaintiffs have negotiated a settlement agreement resolving all remaining issues, including attorneys’ fees, arising from this litigation.” 

However, Scanlon points out “the purchase depleted our fund.” Now, the Association is now moving forward with replenishing the fund and establishing seed money for future maintenance and growth. 

“We have plans to install an electronic kiosk, so visitors can more easily locate plaques of their loved ones and we can enhance the visitor experience,” he said. “We are also partnering with the Midway Museum to explore our educational outreach so the youth understand that freedom isn’t free, it was paid for with the sacrifice of the people on the wall.”

The Association quietly began a capital campaign with a $2.1 million goal (which they hope to exceed) and has already reached $1.5 million, largely due to hefty donations from philanthropists Doug Manchester, Jack McGrory, Dick Woltman, Tom Sudberry, Peter Farrell and others. Former California Gov. Pete Wilson is serving as honorary chair of the fund drive. 

McGrory, who was City Manager in the 1990s, gave $100,000 to the Association. “I was involved in this issue from the City side and watched as the Association fought the battle after that. The Memorial has become an icon in San Diego and the most important thing to remember is that it is a veteran’s memorial. More than 4,000 veterans are commemorated up there and I intend to get a plaque for dad up there, as well,” he said. “It’s great that now the Memorial is something that can exist in perpetuity and grow from here. We can improve the parkland to make it a nice spot for people to visit.”

Added Manchester, the largest donor at $500,000, “I donated because I’ve been involved with the Memorial for 30 years and I’m so pleased that the dreams of those who have been involved for so long will see the cross be preserved to honor the men and women of the military, because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have the incredible life we enjoy today. When I was asked to get involved, I wanted to do whatever I could. Hopefully, my gift will be followed by others.”

Want to know more? Visit soledadmemorial.com or call (858) 459-2314.

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