Veterans, 1st amendment advocates rejoice after Mount Soledad victory

.- Religious rights advocates and veterans’ groups are announcing their support for U.S. President George W. Bush’s decision to sign a bill passed by Congress, which is intended to save a 29-foot cross in San Diego.  The cross, which is part of the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial will be transferred from city to federal ownership, thus halting two lawsuits which sought to remove the structure.

The national commander of the American Legion said yesterday that the bill’s passage and signing was a “victory for common sense.”  Thomas Bock, who represents the 2.7 million-member veterans group, said the Legion is “pleased to see the U.S. Congress and the President walking in the ‘footsteps of the founders (of the country)’ in recognizing the sanctity of this veterans’ memorial.”

The current Mount Soledad Cross has sat on one of the highest hills of San Diego since its installation on Easter in 1954, but was preceded by other crosses, which have sat on the site since 1913.  

Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center, a religious rights law firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., that fought on behalf of the monument, told the Washington Times that the Oval Office signing is "a line in the sand."

"It's the culmination of a 17-year battle that the atheists backed by the American Civil Liberties Union have been fighting," he said, referring to a lawsuit filed against the city by atheist Philip Paulson, the Washington Times reported.

The cross was slated to be demolished on August 1st, but that order, given by U.S. District Court Judge Gordon Thompson Jr., was halted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a move which opened the possibility for an appeal to the Supreme Court.  The recent congressional and presidential action made such an appeal unnecessary.

And the act seems to be in accord with the desire San Diegans.  Last year, 76 percent of San Diego voters approved Proposition A, which would have allowed the cross to be donated to the federal government.

Bock said the Legion doesn’t expect attacks on the religious symbols of fallen veterans to stop. “We expect more litigation and I assure you that The American Legion will be in the fight,” Bock said in yesterday’s press release.

“The religious symbols that mark the graves and honor the sacrifices of our fallen heroes - a cross, Star of David, or other identification of faith in God - are sacred to Americans. As a grateful nation, we must ensure that the memory of our heroes will never be dishonored by those who would seek to remove them.”

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