Bush saves cross by em­i­nent do­main

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Ju­lia Duin

Pres­i­dent Bush on Aug. 14 signed a bill trans­fer­ring own­er­ship by em­i­nent do­main of a 29-foot cross over­look­ing San Diego from the city to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

The sign­ing ren­dered moot two law­suits seek­ing to re­move the Mount Soledad Cross, a fix­ture on the city’s sky­line since its in­stal­la­tion on Easter 1954, as a Korean War me­mo­rial.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment will head up ef­forts to re­tain the Mount Soledad Cross and the sur­round­ing 170 acres as a mil­i­tary war me­mo­rial.

“This is an at­tempted end run on the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion,” said Fred Ed­words, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Amer­i­can Hu­man­ist As­so­ci­a­tion. “That the fed­eral gov­ern­ment would in­ter­vene in a purely lo­cal church­state dis­pute is an ex­am­ple of elec­tion-year pol­i­tics at its worst.”

Richard Thompson, pres­i­dent of the Thomas More Law Cen­ter, a law firm in Ann Ar­bor, Mich., that fought on be­half of the mon­u­ment, called the Oval Of­fice sign­ing “a line in the sand.”

“It’s the cul­mi­na­tion of a 17year 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.

Mr. Paul­son, a Viet­nam vet­eran, says the mon­u­ment dis­crim­i­nates against non-Chris­tian vet­er­ans.

Or­dered in 1991 by U.S. Dis­trict Court Judge Gor­don Thompson Jr. to re­move the cross, the city tried for years to off­load the me­mo­rial. Last year, 76 per­cent of San Diego vot­ers ap­proved Propo­si­tion A, which would have al­lowed the cross to be do­nated to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

How­ever, Su­pe­rior Court Judge Pa­tri­cia Yim Cowett in­val­i­dated the elec­tion, say­ing the propo­si­tion vi­o­lated the state con­sti­tu­tion by pre­fer­ring a re­li­gious sym­bol. Her rul­ing was ap­pealed to Cal­i­for­nia’s 4th Dis­trict Court of Ap­peal.

On May 3, Judge Thompson or­dered the city to move the cross by Aug. 1 or be fined $5,000 a day.

Supreme Court Jus­tice An­thony M. Kennedy blocked that or­der on July 3 and in­di­cated in a four-page opin­ion that at least four jus­tices — the min­i­mum re­quired — would hear the case if it reached their level.

Mean­while, Congress had drafted a bill to trans­fer the cross to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, ren­der­ing the law­suits moot. The House passed the bill by a 349-74 vote on July 19 and the Se­nate ap­proved it unan­i­mously Aug. 1.

Reps. Dun­can Hunter, Brian P. Bil­bray and Dar­rell Issa, the San Diego-area Repub­li­cans who coau­thored the leg­is­la­tion in June, at­tended the bill sign­ing.

The De­part­ment of De­fense, which will over­see the mon­u­ment, must re­im­burse the city for the prop­erty, amove crit­i­cized by the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Amer­i­cans United for Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State.

“The pres­i­dent and Congress have no busi­ness in­ter­ven­ing in this way in an on­go­ing le­gal pro­ceed­ing,” he said. “To­day’s ac­tion is an un­war­ranted, heavy-handed ma­neu­ver that un­der­cuts the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state and the in­tegrity of the ju­di­cial sys­tem.”

Getty Images

The cross at Mount Soledad Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial over­look­ing San Diego has been trans­ferred to fed­eral own­er­ship in a move that nul­li­fies a court or­der to re­move it.

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