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As part of its massive omnibus spending bill, Congress has acted to designate a disputed area in San Diego, Calif., as a national veterans memorial, a move that helps those hoping to save a 43-foot tall cross that has stood for 50 years.
The Thomas More Law Center, a law firm that has been involved in the fight to save the cross, announced yesterday that Reps. Duncan Hunter and Randy “Duke” Cunningham, both Republicans representing districts near San Diego, inserted the memorial designation in the spending bill, which passed both houses of Congress on Saturday and is expected to signed by President Bush.
Mt. Soledad cross and veterans memorial above San Diego (soledadmemorial.com)
Phillip Paulson is the atheist who has mounted a 15-year legal battle – with help from the American Civil Liberties Union – to remove the cross. The structure has stood on Mount Soledad for 50 years.
He told the San Diego Union-Tribune: “Jihad Jesus Republicans need to understand that the separation of church and state has kept this country from getting into religious wars. … If God was powerful, there would not be a need for the government to go in and force a religious agenda on nonbelieving citizens.”
The ACLU called the new designation “political gamesmanship.”
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Law Center, responded to Paulson’s comments:
“Those who want the Mount Soledad cross removed erroneously base their case on the metaphor ‘separation of church and state,’ a phrase nowhere in the Constitution. This cross and memorial, soon to be officially designated a national veterans memorial, is constitutionally permissible. It’s time to stop government by the ACLU and for the ACLU.”
San Diego attorney Charles LiMandri, director of the Law Center’s western regional office, who has led the effort to save the cross, called the congressional action “an act of God.” He said Congress was not unconstitutionally endorsing religion because it intended to honor veterans in the same manner as the crosses at Arlington National Cemetery.
As WorldNetDaily reported, earlier this year the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association made a private agreement with the ACLU to remove the cross and relocate it to private property – provoking a lawsuit by a former Navy pilot.
The battle began in 1989 when Paulsen filed suit, and a court ordered the city to remove the cross. San Diego responded by placing the property up for sale, with the approval of 76 percent of voters. But the subsequent sale was ruled unconstitutional after Paulsen objected, arguing the sale had the effect of preserving the cross.
In 1998, the city sold the property to the Mt. Soledad War Memorial Association, which again was challenged in court. The sale originally was upheld but later ruled unconstitutional by the full panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and remanded back to district court to work out a remedy.
During its brief period of ownership, the Memorial Association made significant improvements, including extensive landscaping and the addition of more than 3,000 plaques honoring military veterans.
Thompson said he doesn’t expect the congressional action to end the legal battle, but he hopes the City of San Diego and the Veterans Memorial Association will now get behind efforts to save the cross.
According to the congressional designation, once the City of San Diego donates the land to the United States, the secretary of the interior would administer the memorial as a unit of the National Park System, giving the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association the right to continue maintaining the cross and surrounding granite memorial walls and plaques.
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