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CULTURE DIGEST: U.S. House votes to preserve Mount Soledad cross; welfare reform stretches to family ties; Sam Brownback among presidential longshots

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Congressional action to protect San Diego’s Mount Soledad cross now adds one more front to the battle over the monument constructed in 1954 as a tribute to veterans of the Korean War.

The House of Representatives, after a brief debate, voted 349-74 on July 19 to make the land beneath the 19-foot cross — atop an 800-foot mountain — property of the federal government.

“I am shocked at a time of war … that we’re talking about destruction of a war memorial,” cross supporter Rep. Brian Bilbray, a Republican whose district includes Mount Soledad, told House colleagues.

“I remember as a child, my father driving past [the cross] and saying, ‘This is one of the few memorials in the country that recognize the heartbreak of what went on in Korea,’” Bilbray said.

Bilbray and two other Republican congressmen from the San Diego area, Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa, sponsored the legislation, H.R. 5683.

In early July, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy granted a stay of a lower court’s order for the city to remove the cross by Aug. 1 or face fines of $5,000 a day, to await a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing slated to begin Oct. 16.

San Diego voters approved a ballot measure by a 76 percent margin last July authorizing the city to donate the monument to the federal government. A lower court judge ruled the measure unconstitutional, but a district court of appeals said it will hold a hearing on supporters’ efforts to uphold the constitutionality of the vote.

The House vote to preserve the cross, said William Kellogg, president of the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, which maintains the memorial, is “probably the most promising set of developments we’ve had in a long time on this issue as far as the possibility of keeping the cross where it is,” Copley News Service reported.

The White House backed the legislation, stating that San Diego voters “have clearly expressed their desire to keep the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in its present form. Judicial activism should not stand in the way of the people.”

Copley also reported that California’s two Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, have “indicated support,” as the news service put it, for the memorial. Feinstein, for example, noted “the history and significance of this monument to so many veterans and San Diegans” for her view favoring its preservation.

Among opponents of the cross lamenting the House vote, Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, described the bill as “a gratuitous attempt by Congress to improperly intervene in an ongoing lawsuit.” Lynn said Congress “needs to butt out.”

FOSTERING FAMILY TIES -– The Bush administration is assessing 2,000-plus proposals for grants from $100 million in federal funds to be awarded to nonprofit groups and churches in September to promote “healthy marriages” and “responsible fatherhood,” The New York Times reported July 20.

Earlier this year, a “little-noticed bill reauthorizing welfare reform,” as The Times described it, included $750 million over five years for such initiatives.

The Times noted that most conservatives and liberals now agree that “the breakdown of families — to take one indicator, one-third of all births in the country and two-thirds of black births are now out of wedlock — is feeding into a destructive cycle of poverty, educational and developmental deficits, and incarceration.”

“Poverty experts have also warmed in recent years to the idea of working with parents to promote workable bonds, if not always marriage, and of working with couples, rather than focusing only on mothers as many social programs have,” The Times stated.

The promotion of marriage and stricter work rules are the “unfinished business of welfare reform,” The Times quoted Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael O. Leavitt as saying in recent comments at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

It is not clear, however, whether relationship training can have an impact on the many challenges faced by lower-income parents, though studies have found that such training can aid middle-class couples, The Times noted. Research by the Fragile Families Project at least noted that 80 percent of single mothers are romantically involved with the fathers of their children, The Times reported.

Among the model programs highlighted by The Times, a 21-week course at the nonprofit Family Road of Greater Baton Rouge utilizes curriculum developed by University of Washington faculty members John and Julie Gottman exploring such themes as “prevent harmful fights,” “what kids do to relationships,” “prevent and recover from infidelity” and “considering marriage.”

Meanwhile, Ron McClain, founder of Marriage Mentoring Ministries in Pinedale, Calif., has used a $50,000 federal grant to hire a part-time employee and purchase a computer and printer for the production of thousands of leaflets setting forth the benefits of marriage, The Times reported.

SEN. BROWNBACK, CONSERVATIVE DARKHORSE — A profile of Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback appeared in USA Today July 19, assessing his chances as a longshot for the Republican presidential nomination.

Brownback, 49, who has visited Iowa’s presidential caucus battleground but has made no formal declaration of his candidacy, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1994 and to the Senate two years later to fill the seat Bob Dole vacated in making a presidential run.

A Protestant who converted to Catholicism four years ago, Brownback is the father of five children (including an adoptee from China and one from Guatemala). Conservative Christian leaders within the GOP “take him seriously,” USA Today stated, noting the Kansas senator’s pro-life and pro-marriage credentials and his opposition to embryonic stem cell research (versus research using adult stem cells which does not destroy human life).

USA Today noted that the “better-known Republican contenders face significant complications in seeking evangelicals’ votes.”

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki are supporters of abortion rights and homosexual rights, USA Today recounted, while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee has moved from his opposition to embryonic stem cell research. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney “has had to explain his past support of abortion rights; he now opposes abortion,” USA Today stated, while Arizona Sen. John McClain “riled evangelicals again last month when he voted against the federal constitutional ban on gay marriage.”

“That has created a political opening for contenders with stronger faith-based credentials, if lower poll ratings,” USA Today reported, citing Brownback along with Virginia Sen. George Allen and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister who was president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was quoted by USA Today as describing Brownback as “a great man, and Sam Brownback is a great senator.” But, Land said, “Whether he is a credible presidential candidate is up to Sam to prove.”

Speaking at Elim Christian Fellowship in Des Moines recently, Brownback noted that the range of issues facing America “isn’t a ride in the park.”

“This is about life. This is about marriage. This is about God in the public square,” Brownback was quoted by USA Today as saying. The United States and its way of life “stand in the balance. And we could win this thing, and we could have another 100 years as the greatest nation on the face of the earth, and we could lose it and we could lose the culture.”