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Veterans go to battle for memorials

The American Legion and the Alliance Defense Fund will mark Memorial Day 2007 observances by launching a nationwide Defense of Veterans Memorials Project to fight secular attacks by the American Civil Liberties Union, atheists and others against veterans memorials – as exemplified by lawsuits against the Mt. Soledad National War Memorial in San Diego and the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial.

The American Legion, the largest wartime veterans organization in the world with 2.7million members in 15,000 posts, and the Alliance Defense Fund, believed to be the largest public interest legal firm defending freedom of religion with some 1,000 pro bono attorneys, are to formally announce and detail the Defense of Veterans Memorials Project at a Washington, D.C., press conference May 24 as the nation pauses to remember those veterans who have given their lives for American freedom on Memorial Day weekend.

The expansion of what began as a California Legion project last year into a nationwide Defense of Veterans Memorials Project represents a new and unprecedented force fighting the ACLU in Establishment Clause lawsuits in which the ACLU has reaped millions in profits through judge-ordered, taxpayer-paid attorney fee “awards” in attacks on veterans memorials, the Boy Scouts, public seals, as in Los Angeles County and Redlands, Calif., and the public display of the Ten Commandments or other symbols of America’s history and heritage.

The California Legion’s Defense of Veterans Memorials Project with ADF was initiated last year after a U.S. district judge on May 3, 2006, ordered the City of San Diego to remove or destroy the Christian cross that has stood at the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial for more than 50 years by Aug. 1 or he would impose a $5,000-a-day fine on taxpayers.

The order came after 17 years of litigation brought by an atheist represented by an ACLU-backed attorney to destroy the cross, which in its original form had been placed atop Mt. Soledad by private citizens in 1913.

American Legion La Jolla Post 275 initiated the proposal to establish the site as a veterans memorial in 1954, incorporating rather than destroying the pre-existing cross. The original and a successor cross having been damaged by weather, a new, 29-foot cross was established on the same site.

The district court’s cross-destruction order in May 2006 triggered the entry of the Legion and the ADF into the Mt. Soledad litigation in support of San Diego attorney Charles S. LiMandri, regional director of the Thomas More Law Center, which has led the legal fight to save the Mt. Soledad memorial “as it is, where it is.”

Since then, Thomas More Law Center’s LiMandri, supported by the Legion, ADF and others, has led the Mt. Soledad legal fight to victories against the ACLU in the U.S. Supreme Court (which stayed the order to destroy the cross honoring veterans), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal (which vacated the cross destruction order), and the 4th District California Court of Appeal (which vacated a Superior Court order nullifying an election to transfer Mt. Soledad to the federal government and vacated a $268,000 attorney fee “award” to the ACLU attorney who had sued to nullify the decision of voters.)

However, the ACLU filed new lawsuits against Mt. Soledad after Congress in 2006 passed legislation to transfer the site from the city to the federal government as a national veterans memorial. That protective legislation was passed by overwhelming vote in the House and unanimous vote in the U.S. Senate.

Nevertheless, in defiance of that expression of the public will, on Aug. 24, 2006, 10 days after President Bush signed the Mt. Soledad protection act into law, the ACLU filed new lawsuits against the veterans memorial, requesting a single, unelected, unaccountable federal judge to overturn the act of Congress.

Legion veterans, aided by the ADF, Thomas More Law Center and others, are fighting back against the ACLU.

Indeed, the ACLU, by its continuing attacks on Mt. Soledad and other veterans memorials, continues to create a growing backlash, resulting now in an unprecedented nationwide Defense of Veterans Memorials Project, which empowers the 2.7 million veterans in the American Legion to fight back against the ACLU wherever and whenever the group sues a veterans memorial in arrogant disrespect for the veterans whose service and sacrifice those memorials honor.

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Rees Lloyd is a longtime California civil rights attorney, veteran and director of the Defense of Veterans Memorials Project of the American Legion Department of California.