Philip Kevin Paulson, who fought a 17-year legal battle to remove the Mount Soledad cross from public property, died Wednesday of liver cancer. He was 59.
Paulson, a 6-foot-5 Vietnam veteran who lived in City Heights, became so passionate about the separation of church and state that he filed a civil lawsuit against the city of San Diego in 1989 without an attorney. He won the case, and as the appeals dragged on he became one of the county’s most reviled and respected characters.
During interviews with The San Diego Union-Tribune in September and October, a few months after doctors told him he did not have long to live, Paulson said he was unconcerned about death and proud of the stand that defined his life.
“The real message is equal treatment under the law, and religious neutrality. That’s the purpose of why I did it,” said Paulson, who turned away from religion early in life. “It has nothing to do with me being an atheist or whether I was a Bible-thumping fundamentalist Baptist preacher.”
Paulson, the grandson of a Lutheran preacher who shunned media attention to protect the case, agreed to exclusive interviews on the condition that his comments remain confidential until his death or the end of the case.
He said he wanted people to understand why he pursued the removal of the cross, and that he was never motivated by a hatred of Christians.
“I don’t harbor those kind of feelings,” Paulson said. “My mother’s a Christian. I was raised a devout Christian. I’m not anti-Christian. The reason I did it is because it’s not fair to the other religions. America is not just the Christian religion.”