Father Josiah Trenman of St. Andrew Orthodox organized a march that drew hundreds of supporters Tuesday to plead with the Riverside City Council to fight a lawsuit targeting the 35-foot cross at Mount Rubidoux. The legal battle focuses on the cross’ position on public land, which opponents say violates separation of church and state. Jacob Rascon reports from Riverside for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Jan. 15, 2013.
More than a hundred years after the Mount Rubidoux cross went up, there is a very real possibility it could be forced down – or at least change owners.
On Tuesday, resident John Harris joined some 150 people to march in support of the 35-foot cross. They want the city to fight the legal challenge against the landmark.
"We've been coming to Mt Rubidoux on Easter for years and years," Harris said.
In August, a man from Riverside complained about the Christian symbol to the Washington, D.C.-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS), which then threatened to sue the city if the cross didn't come down promptly.
"We don't think a large prominent cross such as this one belongs on public property,” said Alex Luchunitsur, the legal director of AUSCS. “It violates the separation of church and state.”
"The sole purpose of the First Amendment is to protect minorities including religious minorities," Luchunitsur said.
The city held a final hearing Tuesday on the issue. Next Tuesday, it will decide to either do nothing, sell the land or take down the cross.
"What I'm hoping is that they'll do nothing," said Father Josiah Trenman of St. Andrew Orthodox, who organized Tuesday’s march.
Trenham echoed the argument of many residents that say the cross should stay because it's more than just a symbol of one religion.
"I've had Jews come to me. I've had atheists come into my parish and ask, how they could help preserve the cross," Trenham said.