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Mt. Soledad cross and veterans memorial above San Diego (soledadmemorial.com)
Angered by a judge’s order to remove the giant Mount Soledad cross in San Diego, a California state lawmaker is introducing a bill to protect symbols of American heritage that have a religious aspect.
The Defense of Veterans Memorials Act would be the first state legislation of its kind, mirroring the federal Public Expression of Religion Act, introduced in the House last year, which would remove from judges the authority to award attorney fees, or damages to groups such as the ACLU.
As WorldNetDaily reported May 3, U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson ordered the city of San Diego to remove the mountain-top cross within 90 days or face a fine of $5,000 a day.
Thompson ruled in 1991 the cross violates the so-called “separation of church and state,” but the case has remained in courts and become an issue of public policy.
The battle began in 1989 when Phillip Paulsen, an atheist, filed suit, and a court ordered the city to remove 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.
Pointing out “separation of church and state” is not mentioned in the Constitution, the California bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Jim Battin, said the term should not be used to “destroy any remnants or images of Christianity.”
“The hatred of a religious symbol is not a just cause to tear down memorials that hold noteworthy meaning,” he said. “Is the Arlington National Cemetery next on the hit list?”
The bill is scheduled for hearing today in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Battin, whose bill was introduced at the urging of the American Legion, said there has been a dramatic increase in litigation in California and around the country by special interest organizations against the public display of symbols of America’s history and heritage.
Cities have been strong-armed into removing religious symbols from their city seals, law enforcement emblems and city property because they can’t afford to defend themselves, Battin pointed out.
“The very threat of imposition of attorney fees or damages in such cases,” said a statement by Battin, “has a coercive and chilling effect on debate, deliberation and decision-making by public officials when faced with the duty to decide what symbols of our American history or heritage may or may not be displayed in the public sphere without offending somebody, if those symbols, no matter how historical, traditional, or time honored, contain a religious symbol.”
In Los Angeles, for example, the ACLU threatened the county Board of Supervisors with a lawsuit if officials did not remove a small cross from among the many symbols on its more than 50-year-old county seal
Members of the board, which voted 3-to-2 to comply with the ACLU’s demand, publicly said they feared court-ordered attorney fees to be paid by taxpayer funds if the ACLU were to prevail.
Nevertheless, the county was faced with paying an estimated $1 million to replace all its seals.
“Laws that were created to preserve religious freedom and protections are now being manipulated to destroy them,” said Battin. “This is inherently wrong. My bill aims to keep scare-tactics and threats of costly lawsuits from determining the outcome on such suits.”
Similar suits have been brought against the city of Redlandsm, Calif., for having a cross on its city seal; the Federal Mojave Desert World War I Veterans’ Memorial which consists of two pipes strapped together and mounted on a rock outcrop by veterans in 1934 to honor World War I veterans; and the Boy Scouts of America for having Christian themes and symbols in their manuals.
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