On Good Friday the controversial Monterey beach cross found its final resting place in the San Carlos Cemetery on Pearl Street. A small ceremony marked an unsatisfactory end to a petty constitutional crisis.
For those who just joined us, here's the story in brief. In 1769 a team of explorers marched up the coast from San Diego to Monterey Bay. They erected two crosses on each side of the Monterey Peninsula to signal their supply ship. Exactly 200 years later to the day, a similar cross was erected on the beach at Del Monte Dunes (near the Monterey/Seaside border) to commemorate the expedition. Last September a vandal sawed it down.
Enter the American Civil Liberties Union, threatening the city with a costly court battle, citing separation of church and state as their battle cry. Crosses do not belong on public land, they said. Ever. However, because the cross had a legitimate secular purpose in replicating a documented historic event, the Monterey city council more or less decided to stand up to the ACLU by voting to restore the cross. However, there was one stipulation. A legal defense fund of $50,000 was to be raised first, because the city couldn't afford a costly legal fight in these tough economic times.
But times being tough for everybody, about $5,000 came in shortly after the fund was established. Then donations fell off abruptly. The folks in charge of the fund (which was privately managed) apparently didn't consider that raising that kind of money takes time and effort. They didn't even post so much as a web page, much less showed any active attempt to solicit donations beyond the initial news reports last fall. Still, they
managed to raise 10% of their goal with no effort whatsoever, suggesting
that an active campaign over several months might have done the job.
Apparently discouraged that money didn't automatically fall into their laps, they abandoned the effort last month. At the same time the city announced that a "solution" to the constitutional problem had been found. The cross would be relegated to a graveyard.
I am sorely disappointed that our community didn't have the patience and determination to see this matter through. By caving in to the ACLU's demands the constitutional questions remain unresolved.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that a religious monument can stand on public land provided it also has a legitimate secular purpose. In that case it was a stone monument of the Ten Commandments on the Texas state capitol grounds. The court recognized that it had a secular purpose to honor a private service organization that had done good deeds. It is still there.
Here in Monterey, the ACLU apparently took advantage of the vandalism, along with the city's weakened financial condition, to force compliance with the ACLU's interpretation of the law. Thus they conveniently avoided a proper judicial review which might have gone against them.
It's ironic on a couple levels that the cross ended up in a graveyard. First, the ACLU argued that a cross on a beach would be misinterpreted by viewers as a government endorsement of religion. Yet in a cemetery the cross is certain to be misinterpreted as a memorial to a dead person rather than a re-creation of a historic event that led directly to the first European settlement of Monterey.
Second, it symbolizes the death of common sense. The cross on the beach harmed no one. It had no power to influence anyone's religious beliefs one way or the other. If anyone wondered why it was there a simple visit to read the explanatory plaque at its base would enable anyone with an ounce of curiosity to learn a little something about our colorful local history - and realize that the city was not trying to proselytize. But, alas, historical accuracy was murdered by political correctness. R.I.P.
For a detailed history of the cross see: The True Meaning Of The Cross. Also recommended, this KSBW editorial.