By Jeremy Los
May 11, 2011 – The battle over the Mt. Soledad cross is being revamped recently as Congressman Duncan D. Hunter (R-San Diego) looks to protect the 41-foot cross atop the La Jolla landmark under his proposed War Memorial Protection Act. Language from the Act has now been included as a provision under the National Defense Authorization Act. Hunter's measure would allow for the preservation of war memorials that display religious symbols.
The full bill is expected to be heard tomorrow by the House Armed Services Committee during mark-up.
Congressman Hunter’s provision will look to greatly reduce, if not completely eradicate what Hunter views as “unwarranted” legal action against the Mt. Soledad cross and other war memorials around the country by creating a foundation in federal law for the inclusion of religious symbols on war memorials.
“It shouldn’t matter if it’s a cross, Star of David or Wiccan symbol, which are among the 46 authorized emblems of belief through the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Congressman Hunter in his testimony to the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. “War memorials, including those with religious symbols, deserve to be protected for what they are: testaments to military service.”
As Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Hunter - a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan – has the clout to get this provision onto the floor for a vote. According to Dana Sher of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Legislative Policy Counsel at the Washington Legislative Office, “Because it's in the chairman's bill, it will pass and would be impossible to delete.”
The ACLU opposes the measure. “It's disappointing that this is an issue that the Chairman is focusing on. So many of our citizens, our service members, and our veterans are not Christian,” Sher observed “I've seen Department of Defense reports that nearly one-third of all those serving in the U.S. military identify as non-Christian,” said Sher. “Instead of being something that unites us as we remember those who served, the use of a Christian symbol is divisive. All of those who served should be equally respected regardless of their religion.”
Hunter’s office has suggested the measure would protect religious symbols on graves, however Sher noted that symbols on graves are already allowed in federal cemetaries.
The Mt. Soledad cross has faced many legal challenges in the past for its obvious Christian imagery on federally owned land. In January, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the cross to be unconstitutional because it was deemed a sign of government favoring a religion.
“No act of Congress can overturn a constitutional decision from a federal court,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
It is still unclear whether this provision will be a part of the Senate bill, which is planned to be heard later in the year.