Thursday, May 11, 2006

Eminent domain and ugly memorials

The mayor of San Diego and one of the local congressmen, Duncan Hunter, who usually spends all of his time talking about building the Great Wall of Alta California to keep undocumented immigrants out, have asked the President to exercise federal eminent domain to save the Mount Soledad cross. You see, this rather unattractive monument sits on city-owned land and the city has already spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars that San Diego doesn't have--bankruptcy continues to loom--to defend a monument ostensibly to San Diego's war dead, but just as much a monument to the Christian beliefs of those who were allowed to put the monument up.
For what it's worth, the actual monument to those who died in WWII consists in plaques around the cross, not the cross itself. And, no one has objected to the war memorial per se. What people have objected to is the presence of a huge white cross on the top of a mountain owned by the city, a cross that seems to send the message that the city is officially Christian. In addition, unlike the ostensibly Christian name of the city--not that many people ever really associate the city with St Didacus--or the missions, the cross has a very short history. It has only been on the hill for 50 years, putting it in the same age-range as "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The city has continually lost in the courts and has finally been ordered to take the monument down. So, rather than do as the courts have consistently ruled--because some conservatives, like some liberals, only believe in the rule of law when the law is interpreted in their favor--the Republican leadership of the city and region is determined to give away or have taken away city property to keep the cross there.
I don't know for sure how I feel about the presence of the cross on Mt Soledad. I do know that the people who have most stringently defended the presence of the cross are religious groups who see taking down the cross as an attack on Christianity. Of course, this must mean that they see the cross' presence as a statement of Christianity on city property. And, if they are right about that, then it ought to be taken down, since that looks like an entangling of religion and the state. I am more inclined to think of it as a more or less standard way of representing the dead, one whose history is entangled with religion, but one that isn't that heavily invested with religious meaning anymore. Crosses as markers for the dead are a cultural motif in the West.
But, I do know that the United States is a nation of laws and that means that we must obey the law or suffer the consequences--the message of true civil disobedience. Sometimes, when we suffer the consequences, others change their minds about what the laws should be. And, I know that the mayor isn't elected to give things away. So, if the mayor doesn't want to take the cross down, he can defy the order, but he doesn't have the right to give my property (as a citizen of San Diego) away to the federal government. And, he no longer has the right to spend my money to fight a lost battle in the courts.

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