~from Contra Costa Times
Philip Paulson, an atheist who waged a 17-year legal battle to have a giant cross removed from public land on Mount Soledad, has died. He was 59.
Paulson died Wednesday of liver cancer. He was diagnosed in July and was hospitalized on Oct. 20 after complaining of abdominal pain, remaining in critical condition until his death, said Lorelei Lindsey, his companion of 17 years.
Born in Clayton, Wis., Paulson was the grandson of a Lutheran minister but said he lost his faith during two bloody tours of duty in Vietnam.
The City Heights resident sued the city in 1989, claiming that the 29-foot cross on city property violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
Paulson won the original case but appeals continue, with the city arguing that the cross is a secular symbol because it is part of a war memorial.
In interviews with the San Diego Union-Tribune before his death, Paulson said he was fighting for "equal treatment under the law, and religious neutrality."
"My mother's a Christian. I was raised a devout Christian. I'm not anti-Christian," he said. "The reason I did it is because it's not fair to the other religions. America is not just the Christian religion."
"I fought in Vietnam and I thought I fought to maintain freedom and yet the cross savers in this city would have us believe all of the veterans' sacrifices are in vain, that the Constitution is something to be spit on," Paulson said.
His stand made him friends among civil libertarians but earned him the enmity of some believers.
He would joke about the death threats he received, said his attorney, James McElroy.
"This was a guy who walked point in Vietnam and had seen a lot of dead bodies," McElroy said. "He didn't scare."
McElroy has said a new plaintiff, Vietnam veteran and atheist Steve Trunk, would be added to the suit against the city in order to keep the case alive.
In August, President Bush signed federal legislation expropriating the cross and placing it in the hands of the Department of Defense as a national memorial. A new lawsuit is challenging that transfer.