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Mount Soledad cross case spurs new legislation

WASHINGTON — A group of California lawmakers is pushing for congressional protection for religious symbols included at U.S. war memorials after the latest court challenge to a San Diego veterans monument that features a 43-foot high cross.

Earlier this month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Mount Soledad cross – which has been at the center of legal fights for more than two decades – amounts to an unconstitutional display of government favoring a specific religion, and must be changed. Supporters of the memorial have vowed to continue fighting the case to the Supreme Court.

But California Republican Rep. Duncan D. Hunter hopes his latest legislative bid might settle the fight before that, by allowing religious symbols to be included in any federal military memorial by law. The measure could circumvent the courts’ interpretation of the Establishment Clause, which prohibits the U.S. government from showing preference for one religious group over another.

“The War Memorial Protection Act is just as much about Mount Soledad as it is every other war memorial across the country,” Hunter said in a statement. “In cases where religious elements are present, the fact that these monuments stand as symbols of military service and sacrifice does not change.”

But opponents of the cross say its presence replaces the military focus of the memorial with a Christian one. Supporters say a defeat in California could have widespread changes for memorials throughout the country, including Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where religious symbols are engraved in the headstones of thousands of fallen servicemembers.

So far two other California congressmen – Republicans Brian Bilbray and Darrell Issa – have also signed onto the legislation, but no similar proposals have been floated in the Senate.

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