Jeremiah Denton at Clark Air Force Base in 1973 after 8 years in a North Vietnamese prison.
Former POW and U.S. senator Jeremiah Denton has requested that President Bush authorize the federal government to take over the site of a historic San Diego cross scheduled to be removed by a judge’s order.
In a letter recently delivered to the president, the war hero requested the federal government exercise its power of eminent domain in order to maintain the land as a national monument.
As WorldNetDaily reported, U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson ordered the city of San Diego to remove the 43-foot structure by Aug. 1 or face a fine of $5,000 a day. Thompson ruled the cross unconstitutional in 1991, but the case has remained in courts and become an issue of public policy.
The dispute was started by an atheist charging the cross – the centerpiece of a national war-veterans memorial – violates the so-called “separation of church and state.”
Last week, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to stay the order. The court has scheduled oral arguments on the matter for the week of Oct. 16, weeks after the cross is to be removed.
Mount Soledad cross and veterans memorial above San Diego (soledadmemorial.com)
Denton, a retired Navy rear admiral, spent nearly eight years as a POW in Vietnam. He was the first POW to tip off naval intelligence on the status of prisoners there by blinking his eyes in Morse code “t-o-r-t-u-r-e” during a televised interview taped in North Vietnam.
Denton has described how he clung to the only possession he had as a POW, a cross woven of bamboo strips given to him by a fellow prisoner.
Over the past month, the president has received more than 450,000 e-mails from various conservative and faith-based organizations to save the cross. The White House has informed a source from a well known pro-family organization who wishes to remain anonymous that it will respond to these requests soon.
Responding to a question from WND last week, presidential press secretary Tony Snow said: “Right now, the president and the administration are actively reviewing both administrative and legislative options for preserving that veterans war memorial.”
Meanwhile, in Congress, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., introduced this week a bill to save the war memorial in its present form.
Hunter said in a statement, the memorial “has been a fixture of our local community for over 50 years, honoring veterans of all wars, including the global war on terrorism.”
Unfortunately, the congressman said, “this memorial and its proud history has been identified as offensive and in violation of the California state constitution by liberal judges who have sided with a self-proclaimed atheist receiving legal and financial support from the ACLU.”
Pointing to a special vote last year in which 76 percent of San Diegans chose to preserve the cross, Hunter said Judge Thompson’s ruling “ignores the mandate delivered by the people of San Diego County and turns this beloved memorial into a political test case for liberal activists and their agenda.”
Hunter also called removal of the cross “an insult to the men and women memorialized on its walls and the service and sacrifice of those who have worn a uniform in defense of our nation.”
“It is important that we exhaust every possible option for preserving this revered memorial and ensuring its continued presence atop Mount Soledad,” he said.
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a national public-interest law firm that has battled to save the cross since 2004, says a quick solution would be for the federal government to step in and take the land under its power of eminent domain, but “so far they have remained silent.”
In 2004, Congress paved the way for the cross to be preserved by designating the structure and the land on which it stands a national veterans memorial. The congressional action authorized the Department of the Interior to accept the property as a donation, to be administered under the National Park System.
Despite widespread support, however, the San Diego City Council declined to make the donation, prompting formation of a grass roots organization, “San Diegans for the Mt Soledad War Memorial,” headed by Jewish businessman Philip Thalheimer.
The group led a petition drive, obtaining more than 100,000 signatures calling on the council to reverse its decision. The council put the question to voters in the special election in which 76 percent chose to preserve the cross. State Court Judge Patricia Cowett, however, ruled the proposition violated the California constitution. Her order is under appeal.
The American Family Association has launched a campaign asking citizens to send an e-mail to President Bush to effectively take “the case out of Judge Thompson’s hands” by signing an executive order transferring the land to the National Park Service.
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