SAN FRANCISCO (AP)–A 103-foot cross–built in 1934–can remain atop San Francisco’s Mount Davidson following the city’s sale of the cross and surrounding land to a private organization–says a federal judge.
The transfer from public to private ownership restored the constitutional barrier between church and state–US District Judge Maxine Chesney ruled Monday.
The city owned the cross for more than half a century–and illuminated it during Christmas and Easter seasons until 1990.
In 1996 a federal appeals court ruled having such a prominent religious symbol on public land violated California’s constitutional ban on government favoring any religion.
The city accepted bids and sold the cross and a surrounding third of an acre in 1997 to the Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California for $26,000.
The council used the site to commemorate Turkey’s massacre of Armenia’s in the 1910s and early 1920s. The sale was supported by groups that had challenged city ownership of the cross–including the American Civil Liberties Union.
But a new suit was filed by members of an atheists’ organization–who said the sale was a sham designed to sidestep the court ruling.
Chesney ruled–however–that the sale was a legitimate transaction for a reasonable sum–and followed an open auction.
She said the city conducted no campaign to "save the cross," left the buyer free to make the decision–and required the land to be clearly marked with signs mentioning the previous ruling and disclaiming public ownership.
She also rejected the atheists’ claim that they were prevented from bidding on the property. Their lawyer said one client was prepared to spend as much as $100,000 and would have either torn down the cross or removed its arms.
The Armenian American Council of Northern California is a coalition of a number of Armenian American organizations–including political–social–cultural and humanitarian organizations–including the Armenian National Committee of the Bay Area.