Friday, Sept. 1, 2006 | To some, Philip Paulson is a heroic defender of the law. To others, he’s a persecutor of religious freedom. Either way, on Sunday Paulson is expected to announce that he’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer, reminding everyone that he’s merely mortal.
For the past 17 years, Paulson, a Vietnam War veteran and an atheist, has served as the lead plaintiff in a legal quest to remove a 29-foot cross from government land atop Mount Soledad. Through his attorney, James McElroy, Paulson has successfully argued that the presence of a religious symbol on city land violates the California Constitution in a case that has been a centerpiece of civic debate for nearly two decades.
Still, the battle continues.
Last month, McElroy filed suit in federal court after Congress and President Bush transferred ownership of the cross and the war memorial to the federal government via eminent domain. The suit alleges that the transfer violates provisions of the U.S. Constitution that require the separation of church and state. While many believe the case will likely be heard by the Supreme Court, Paulson might never see the case resolved.
But Paulson’s failing health might not preclude him from securing a final legal victory, albeit a posthumous one. Legal experts, and those close to the cases, say that if Paulson passes away, it shouldn’t impact the legal standing of four related suits. However, some say it could affect the resolve behind those efforts.
Paulson, who typically avoids media coverage, declined to comment for this story other than to confirm that he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He has kept out of the limelight throughout the history of the case. McElroy, the public face of the legal challenge, also declined to comment.