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Sharing name with infamous atheist is troublesome

Phil Paulson might be San Diego's most infamous atheist. He is the man who filed the lawsuit against the city for allowing the Mount Soledad cross on public property. His unpopular position has earned him notoriety, even death threats.

The negative response has been so vehement that even having the same name as Phil Paulson can be a problem. KPBS reporter Joanne Faryon prepared this report.

Dorothy Paulson: "My name is Dorothy Paulson and I have a middle initial I use and I live in Tierrasanta for a long time and I'm over 75. My phone number is listed as Phil and Dorothy Paulson.

Dorothy Paulson is not an activist or a politician. She's a retired middle school teacher who enjoys re-decorating her condo and lunching with friends.

She likes seeing the 43-foot concrete cross atop Mount Soledad, but it's not something she pays a lot of mind.

But every so often, since the notorious lawsuit began nearly twenty years ago, Dorothy Paulson gets in the middle of the cross debate, whether she chooses to or not.

Her late husband shared the same name as Phil Paulson, the man who is suing the city over the cross. Dorothy often gets angry letters and phone calls for Phil Paulson. She recalls one of the nastiest calls.

Dorothy Paulson: And there was a man who called, I think he was truck driver. He could have been some type of long haul driver and he was terribly upset. His vocabulary was unbelievable.

But Dorothy kept listening.

Paulson: He was so upset and I thought that's too bad. He thought what was going on with this man was bad, bad, bad. He had a lot he wanted to unload and our machine got the whole thing. He had a lot of anger he was dishing out and its too bad the real Phil Paulson didn't hear that.

The real Phil Paulson has heard his share too, including death threats.

He's not doing media interviews, but his lawyer, James McElroy says his client, a Vietnam war vet, has endured a lot.

James McElroy: "Phil is very courageous guy, probably one of the most vilified San Diegans in the last 10 or 15 years.

McElroy says people have come to know his client as THE atheist, rather than someone who is standing up for a cause. He says debate is good when its rational and intelligent and not fueled by hatred.

James McElroy: But the people with the death threats and the hate mail, its unfortunate people see that as defending their religion and go to such extremes and such lengths. But it takes courageous people like Phil Paulson and Rosa Parks to change the world and make it a better place and I'm very proud of him.

McElroy says after the lawsuit gained so much media attention, Phil Paulson changed to an unlisted phone number.

Dorothy Paulson has decided to keep her number listed, despite the calls.

Dorothy Paulson: I don't want to be bothered. I don't want to change my phone number. If they want to talk, they can talk and I don't have to listen. I don't want to be the one who changes, he can change it and he did .

But Dorothy would like people to know, when they call her, looking for the real Phil Paulson, they've got the wrong number. Joanne Faryon, KPBS News.

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