In response to a federal court’s ruling that the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross is unconstitutional, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has introduced legislation he says will ensure that military monuments which include religious symbols are explicitly protected under federal law.
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared the war memorial in a San Diego public park to be unconstitutional. Its Jan. 4 ruling said the 29-foot cross, dedicated in 1954 to honor veterans of the Korean War, was unconstitutional because it conveys the message of “state-endorsed religion.”
The panel did not order the cross’ removal but returned the case to a lower court, where litigation is expected to continue. A number of litigants, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, have sued to have the cross removed.
Rep. Hunter charged that the ruling was a “disservice” to those who have served in the armed forces and was an example of “judicial activism” which threatens the preservation of American war memorials.
“Mt. Soledad is a symbol of military service and tradition,” he said in a Jan. 12 statement. “Ensuring it remains intact is not only important to the San Diego community, but the millions of other Americans who have served in America’s armed forces and defended freedom in the face of immense danger and personal risk.”
“In cases where religious elements are present, the fact that these monuments stand as symbols of military service and sacrifice does not change,” he continued.
Legislation co-sponsor Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) said the Mt. Soledad memorial was special to him because the plaques of his father, brothers and stepfather are among the stories of military service commemorated there.
He said the legislation would ensure that Americans are allowed to “recognize the religious backgrounds” of service members in the memorials built to honor them.