Jews applaud end of Mt. Davidson cross controversy

The American Jewish Committee is hailing this week's passage of Proposition F, which will allow the city of San Francisco to sell the land holding the Mount Davidson cross to a private group, the Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California.

The vote "is a demonstration of what I believe to be the spirit of good fellowship in the city and county of San Francisco," said Richard Johns, a San Francisco attorney and vice president of the AJCommittee.

Earlier this year, Johns suggested a private group raise funds to purchase the land holding the 103-foot structure, whose presence on public property led to a seven-year legal battle centered on the constitutional separation of church and state.

In 1990, nine San Franciscans of various faiths, including Rabbi Allen Bennett of Temple Israel in Alameda, sued the city for maintaining the symbol on public land. Fred Blum, an American Jewish Congress attorney, helped represent the plaintiffs. The Anti-Defamation League filed a friend of the court brief.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the city's appeal of a 1996 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that declared the cross' presence on public land unconstitutional.

In July, the Armenian organization purchased the site at a public auction for $26,000. The council plans to preserve the 63-year-old cross as a landmark and adopt it as a memorial to the Armenian genocide.

Virtually every major politician in the Bay Area and many neighborhood and ethnic groups, supported the sale. So did religious leaders of various faiths. Among those advancing paid arguments in favor of Proposition F in the voter's pamphlet was Rabbi Stephen Pearce of San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El.

However, the Federation of Turkish American Associations, Inc. strongly opposed the sale, saying it could lead to hostile feelings toward those of Turkish descent.

The AJCommittee originally suggested the land be sold as a way of diffusing the often acrimonious debate that arose in the wake of the lawsuit being filed.

"Some people believed Jews wanted to tear down a Christian symbol," Johns said. "San Francisco has had extraordinarily fine Jewish-Christian relations for many, many years. All this was completely unnecessary."

Following this week's vote, "We can all get back to respecting each other's historical and religious symbols."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

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