Conservative legal groups offer pro bono help in Monterey cross dispute.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Washington DC-based Liberty Counsel and the Pacific Justice Institute, which is headquartered in Sacramento, have both offered to rush to the city’s legal defense if it restores the historic Del Monte Beach cross—and gets into legal trouble for it.
The 20-foot redwood cross, which marked the arrival of Spanish explorers to the Monterey Bay, was toppled by vandals last month. The American Civil Liberties Union has said the presence of such a large religious symbol on public land blurs the separation of church and state. So, earlier this month, the Monterey City Council voted to rebuild the cross if and when private citizens raise a $50,000 legal war chest for an almost inevitable court battle. But the offer of free legal assistance adds a new wrinkle to the debate.
In an October 19 letter to the city council, Liberty Counsel attorney David Corry offered to go before a judge for a ruling on the legality of re-establishing the cross—before cross opponents file a lawsuit.
Even if the city doesn’t take Corry up on the offer, Liberty Counsel could attempt to go to court with the same request on behalf of private citizens.
“It could certainly have some positiveness to go out of our hands, and into the hands of the court,” Councilwoman Libby Downey says. However, Downey says she knows nothing about the legal groups in question, doesn't share their politics, and will wait for a report on them from City Attorney Deborah Mall before making up her mind about their offers.
Both groups are known for conservative stands on social and political issues.
Liberty Counsel and PJI were both involved in the battle to pass Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage initiative, which was approved by California voters last November.
At a pre-election rally in Sacramento last year, PJI President Brad Dacus compared the failure of churches to support Prop 8 to the silence of Christians in the face of the Holocaust.
“I was challenging the church not to make the same mistake of complacency as they made in Nazi Germany,” Dacus said. “Did I call the other side Nazis? No.” And, he added that he doesn’t equate gay marriage with the extermination of 6 million Jews.
Dacus is an attorney, who along with his wife, Suzanne, authored “Reclaim Your School! 10 Strategies to Practically and Legally Evangelize Your School”, which according to PJI literature, “gives practical advice to students, parents, teachers, and clergy on standing up for traditional values and evangelizing in today’s school environment”.
Liberty Counsel Chairman Mathew Staver has been just as outspoken as Dacus, particularly in his criticism of President Barack Obama. When Obama’s Nobel award was announced, Staver said, “Obama will be known as President of the Divided States, because he has taken a radical stance in the culture war. He is on the wrong side of life, morality, and liberty…When abroad, he apologizes for America and is embarrassed by American exceptionalism.”
Attorney and former Monterey Mayor Peter Coniglio, who has agreed to spearhead the legal defense fundraising effort, was not immediately available for comment, but city spokeswoman Anne McGrath says he has opened an account at Monterey County Bank to collect donations.