Note: My Web pages are best viewed with style sheets enabled.
Overlooking the west end of the city of Simi Valley (CA), Mt. McCoy is not the highest peak in the Santa Susana Mountains. Historical documents show a cross existed at the top of Mt. McCoy about 150 years ago. According to legend, the first cross was erected by Franciscan friars about 200 years ago as a landmark near the hacienda of the Rancho Simi to help travelers find a stopping place on the way between the mission churches of San Fernando and San Buenaventura. The current concrete cross was built in the 1940s.
*** Begin Left Sidebar ***The Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District is an independent local government agency, providing services not only within the city of Simi Valley but also in surrounding Ventura County areas including Oak Park (the county's largest unincorporated community). The District is governed by an elected Board of Directors, has its own tax base, and even has the power to enact ordinances. It is separate and distinct from the city of Simi Valley and Ventura County.
*** End Left Sidebar ***
In 1995, Mt. McCoy, the cross, and surrounding undeveloped land — 80 acres in all — was donated to the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, which dedicated the parcel as public open space. In 2001, a local official of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised the issue of government ownership of a religious symbol. The District's Board of Directors directed its staff to propose a resolution to that issue.
The Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District conducted a public hearing on 2 June 2004 on a proposal to sell the cross and 0.61 acres of surrounding land to the Simi Valley Historical Society, a non-profit organization. I attended that hearing.
The proposal involved a negotiated sale, avoiding the usual mandate for soliciting competitive bids. This was justified by the fact that the cross is an officially registered historical site, which a government agency can sell through negotiations to a non-profit organization that is established to protect such sites. Since the sales price was based on a report from a professional real estate appraiser, continued subsidy of religion through an under-market price was not an issue.
While it might be a historical landmark, the cross on Mt. McCoy — and any other such cross — is primarily a religious symbol. This was thoroughly demonstrated by the testimony presented during the public hearing, where members of the public lined up to recount their own hikes up Mt. McCoy to worship at the cross. Clearly, selling the cross would be an appropriate end to having a government agency host religion.
During the public hearing, repeated examples of public ignorance were evident.
First of all, that person did not realize the A in ACLU stands for American. The ACLU operates only in the United States, defending individual rights granted under the U.S. Constitution.
Second, unlike the U.S., Israel is indeed a semi-theocracy. For example, there are no civil weddings in Israel; only religious weddings are recognized by the government. And Israeli taxes subsidize religious schools. While this might seem a good idea to some in the U.S. who seek government support of their beliefs, they must realize that not all religions are treated equally: Under pressure from political parties controlled by Orthodox Jewish rabbis, the government generally denies rights to Reform Jewish rabbis (including the right to perform weddings).
In the end, the public supported the proposed sale since it meant their worship at the cross would not be impacted.
The whole experience of the public hearing left me very uncomfortable. The general tone was that nothing is wrong with government hosting and supporting Christian symbols and credos. (Yes, the Ten Commandments and school prayer were frequently mentioned.) Everyone seemed to think that Christians have a right to use taxes from Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists to further Christianity. Strong resentment was expressed against anyone who wants to put Christianity on the same basis as other beliefs: No government sponsorship. None of this was mitigated by one appeal to Judeo-Christian principles.
I came away from the hearing with a feeling that I should avoid going to Simi Valley. Non-Christians are not welcome there as equal citizens.
3 June 2004
David Ross home