When Austin Thompson decided to pop the big question to his girlfriend – he knew there was only one place in Riverside that would work – the top of Mount Rubidoux – under a giant historic cross.
“It was significant to us because we hiked the trail a lot during our dating relationship,” the 28-year-old told Fox News. “The cross was significant to us because of our faith.”
And so it was that on Thanksgiving Day 2011, Thompson proposed to his girlfriend Savannah high atop Mount Rubidoux in the shadow of a 35-foot tall cross. They were married four months ago.
They argue that the cross is a violation of the U.S. Constitution and they are threatening to sue the city unless it’s removed.
That’s why hundreds of concerned residents packed into a city council meeting last night to urge their lawmakers to fight back – and save their long-cherished cross. Thompson was one of those in the audience.
“It’s been up there for over a hundred years, so why is this happening now,” Thompson wondered. “Anything that has to do with Jesus Christ or our Christian faith – people are always going to have a problem.”
The giant cross has stood atop Mount Rubidoux since 1907. The original cross was made of wood – but in 1963 it was replaced with a version made of concrete and steel – measuring some 35-feet tall. It’s also home to one of the nation’s longest running Easter Sunrise services.
Alex Luchenipser, with Americans United, told Fox News that the cross violates the so-called “separation of church and state.”
“It sends a message that Christianity is the preferred religion of the city and that Christianity is favored above all other religions,” he said. “It makes people who aren’t Christians feel like they are outsiders – like they are second-class citizens.”
City leaders decided to postpone their decision on what to do with the cross until January.
The Riverside Press-Enterprise said the city might consider selling the parcel of land beneath the cross so that it could be spared. The newspaper reported that the mountain was originally private property – belonging to the Frank Miller family.
The family donated the land to the city in 1955 with the one condition that the cross be maintained. The newspaper reported that the deed requirement expired in 1985 – hence the current controversy.
Dan Bernstein, a columnist for the newspaper, lashed out at critics of the cross and called the potential lawsuit “bunk.”
“It’s not about religion,” he wrote. “It’s about history. Just because Mount Rubidoux is now public property doesn’t mean a historically significant cross should be destroyed, relocated or sold. It should be kept, maintained and, if necessary, defended in court.”