Monterey City Council considers adjusted approach.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The Monterey City Council appeared to be stepping back from its vow to rebuild the Del Monte Beach cross and headed for a compromise with the American Civil Liberties Union at its meeting last Tuesday. The council considered the emotionally charged isssue at closed session, but reached no decision.
The 20-foot wooden cross, which was toppled by vandals in late September, was erected in 1969 to mark the spot where Spanish explorers Gaspar de Portola and Father Juan Crespi first arrived in Monterey 200 years before.
The ACLU has warned that restoring the massive cross on public property would signal a municipal preference for Christianity over other faiths, and would almost certainly trigger a lawsuit over church-state separation issues.
Last month, the City Council voted to re-erect the cross anyway, provided members of the public could come up with a $50,000 legal defense war chest. Mayor Chuck Della Salla said at the time that not to do so would be to give in to vandalism.
“Should we let the vandals win?” he asked.
But on Nov. 10, the mayor said the legal defense fund barely topped the $3,000 mark.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, the the City Council heard from ACLU attorney Margaret Crosby, a 30-year veteran of battles over crosses on public property, .
“The California courts have never allowed government to display a cross permanently,” Crosby says.
Crosby suggests that the city either re-install the cross on private or museum property or commission a new monument in which the cross appears along with other historical images.
“There could be… something that memoriaizes the event that is not just a single cross,’” Crosby told the council Tuesday night.
“To be honest with you, I thought that was the best route to go from the beginning, but I didn’t get the support of the council to go that way,” says City Councilwoman Libby Downey.
The city’s initial pro-cross stance caught the attention of such prominent religious-right groups as Liberty Counsel, an offshoot of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University; the Pacific Justice Institute, which was a leader in last year’s successful anti-gay marriage initiative campaign; and the Alliance Defense Fund, billed on its website as “defending the right to hear and speak the Truth”.
All three groups offered to represent the city in a legal battle free of charge. But acording to City Manager Fred Meurer: “There is no free lunch.” None of the groups would pay the city’s legal fees if it lost a court battle.