Atheists sue to block cross sale, without Jewish support

An atheist group's charge that the recent sale of San Francisco's Mount Davidson cross is a "sham" meant to skirt church-state separation is not drawing sympathy from Jews long involved in the controversy over the structure.

The group American Atheists sued this week to block the sale of the 103-foot concrete cross to the Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California. The Armenian organization won the cross with a $26,000 bid at a public auction in July and plans to adopt it as a memorial to the Armenian genocide.

While the atheist group wants to see the cross razed rather than sold, the attorney representing a Jewish group that previously sued the city for maintaining the religious symbol on public land says the sale met the suit's desired goal.

"Some people may prefer a different remedy, but all the city was legally obligated to do was not own the cross," said Fred Blum, the attorney representing the American Jewish Congress. "That's been resolved and accomplished."

The AJCongress joined the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in representing private citizens of various faiths who sued San Francisco in 1990.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court ruling in favor of the city; the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case earlier this year.

In other cross-related news, the Coalition to Preserve Mount Davidson and the Friends of Mount Davidson Conservancy this week kicked off the campaign for Proposition F, which will give voters final say on the cross sale.

The American Jewish Congress has not yet decided whether or not it will take a position on Proposition F, Blum said.

The American Jewish Committee, which suggested a sale of the cross as a way to diffuse tensions sparked by the case, plans to publicly support the proposition.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.