The Longest Religious Freedom Court Cast in American History
“They’d better not take down the cross; I don’t think that I could take it,” he once said in reference to court-orders that were issued several times during the heat of the lawsuit. Iwo Jima survivor Doug Barnett speaking about the Mt. Soledad Veterans Cross.
Obtaining funding to propel a circuitous film about the twenty-five year battle by veterans to save the huge Mt. Soledad Veterans Park Cross in San Diego has become the passionate resolve of screenwriter and producer Robert J. LaCosta. The 29-foot concrete cross had been slated to be taken down due to Establishment-Clause lawsuits.
The longest-running religious-freedom court case in American history captured the attention of LaCosta almost two decades ago as it did the President of The United States, The Supreme Court and Congress.
“What made front-page news over the span of three decades will make front-page news today in this battle of the ages,” LaCosta said. “The story is almost too crazy to be believed between the civic, legal, media and political seesaws. From this stranger-than-life story, I composited characters that would depict the drama that had citizens, judges and even presidents on the edge of their seats through a few of their terms. I didn’t want the larger story to be buried beneath a simpler legal and local docudrama.”
LaCosta says this monumental montage of maneuvering during the quarter-century battle will attract a “cross-over” audience. He expects moviegoers will include people of the faith communities, veterans and patriotic-oriented viewers, and the mature who are interested in emotional intergenerational themes and those who simply want to see an incredible drama based on true events with a love story attached for good measure.
“Tear down the cross” is the opening line of the screenplay, which LaCosta says is a fitting metaphor to portray the cultural and spiritual slide in America. He says establishment-clause lawsuits against veterans parks and municipalities have affected millions.
“Many of these veterans across religious perspectives approached rescuing the cross in the same dogged manner that they went into battles ranging from Iwo Jima to Afghanistan,” LaCosta said. “I am positive some would have given their lives to prevent the removal of the landmark if it had come to that. They were dead serious.”
LaCosta allegorizes this epic story through the juxtaposition of a young, self-absorbed student and her aged World War II grandfather. The two symbolize the cultural, moral and spiritual divide in America and explores intergenerational themes that will hit home in any household.
The grandfather’s character is a composite one based on several veterans that LaCosta has known and interviewed. In particular, he crafts the older lead after the late San Diegan, Iwo Jima survivor Douglass Barnett, who often raised the flag over Mt. Soledad. “They’d better not take down the cross; I don’t think that I could take it,” he once said in reference to court-orders that were issued more than once during the heat of the lawsuit.
“That sentiment alone was enough to push me until this story is in theaters,” LaCosta said. “Doug told me that thousands of bullets flew by his head, but not one of them had his name on it. This is the true story behind this true story.”
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