Thursday, January 13, 2011

Congressional bill introduced to save Mt. Soledad War Memorial Cross from ACLU

The spectacular cross presently atop Mt. Soledad in LaJolla, California, was built in 1954 as a war memorial. It wasn't until 1989 that opponents of the cross have been trying to get it removed legally by claiming the cross is a religious symbol and does not make a suitable war memorial.

In 1991, a judge in the Southern District of California, ruled that since the cross was permanently positioned inside a public park and was maintained at taxpayers' expense, it violated the "No Preference" clause of the California Constitution.

In 1992, San Diego voters approved Proposition F, which allowed part of Mt. Soledad Natural Park to be a non-profit corporation for maintenance of a historic war memorial. However, the Ninth Circuit Appellate Court held that "highly visible, religiously significant Easter crosses, erected in public parks owned and maintained by local government, in the absence of any symbols of other religions, and without any independent historical significance, violated the 'No Preference' Clause of the California Constitution."

A few years later, the city sold the land at the base of the cross to the nonprofit Mount Soledad Memorial Association, and it became part of a Korean War Memorial. Since then over 2,500 plaques engraved with names and photos of war veterans have been installed on walls at the base of the cross.

From 1997 to 2008, disputes involving the sale of the land and the constitutionality of the cross on the land went in and out of court. In 2006, the federal government obtained the title to the cross and its surrounding property by eminent domain and declared the cross to be a national war memorial.

In 2008, U.S. Federal Judge Larry Burns ruled that the cross could remain, writing, "The Court finds the memorial at Mt. Soledad, including its Latin cross, communicates the primarily non-religious messages of military service, death and sacrifice. As such, despite its location on public land, the memorial is Constitutional."

Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and decided that since the 43-foot-tall cross was on public land and because it seemed to endorse a particular religion, it violated "separation of church and state." The ACLU was glad for the ruling as is reflected in the words by Daniel Mach, Director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief,

"We are pleased that the court recognized the fundamental principle barring the government from playing favorites with religion. Unlike religious symbols on individual headstones that appropriately reflect the personal faiths of fallen American soldiers, when the government displays a giant sectarian symbol as a national war memorial, it sends a divisive message valuing the sacrifices of some service members above all others."
Contrarily, Joe Infranco, senior counsel of The Alliance Defense Fund, was appalled that the memory of troops should be dishonored because the ACLU and a few others are offended by the presence of the cross.

"It's tragic that the court chose a twisted and tired interpretation of the First Amendment over the common sense idea that the families of fallen American troops should be allowed to honor these heroes as they choose."
San Diego County Reps. Duncan D. Hunter of Alpine, Darrell Issa of Vista, and Brian Bilbray of Solana Beach have reacted to the hateful ruling by introduction of a bill to block removal of the cross. The bill would allow religious symbols that are part of military monuments.

Bilbray and Hunter have also written to U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to continue the legal fight to keep the cross from being removed.

For article, references, video, click here.

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