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Atheists Reserve Park For Easter Park Surrounds Traditional Site For Christian Sunrise Services

Mon., March 18, 1996

An atheists’ group got permission for an Easter sunrise gathering on city park land surrounding a large cross, upsetting Christian groups that have held services there for more than 40 years.

“This isn’t being done to besmirch Christianity or to kick sand in anyone’s face,” said Peter Irons, a lawyer and professor at the University of California, San Diego, who applied for the permit.

“The whole point is to open up (the sunrise service) to everybody, not just Christians,” Irons said.

The April 7 event for the Atheist Coalition of San Diego is being organized by an ad hoc group called The Park Belongs To Everyone.

Craig Kelso, an atheist who heads the park group, said some Christian churches plan to participate in the gathering and a protest against oppression, and he also has invited Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims.

However, Christian groups involved in previous ecumenical services near the 40-foot cross on Mount Soledad have decided to stay away this year to avoid a confrontation.

“It’s very insensitive,” said William J. Kellogg, president of the Mount Soledad Memorial Association. “Our community has enjoyed having that service for many years.”

The association built the cross 42 years ago in the city’s Soledad Natural Park as a memorial to members of the service killed in action.

Permits for the land are issued by the Department of Parks and Recreation on a first-come, first-served basis.

“The Christians didn’t know they were in a race to get to the permit office,” said Edward Starkey, president of the Ecumenical Council of San Diego County, which represents about 100 churches.

“Most of these churches are regarding (the atheists’ ceremony) as a sad little event,” he said.


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