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Senate passes bill to preserve Mt. Soledad cross; Bush to sign

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate approved without opposition Aug. 1 a bill intended to protect San Diego’s Mount Soledad cross as a memorial to military veterans.

Senators agreed by unanimous consent to grant to the federal government ownership of the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial, a 29-foot cross that stands atop an 800-foot mountain and has been a target of church-state separationists. The House of Representatives voted 349-74 for the same measure July 19.

President Bush is expected to sign it into law.

The legislation would sign over ownership of the property to the federal government to preserve it as a national military war memorial, which would be administered by the Department of Defense. The federal government would be required to pay an appropriate amount for the property and would be barred from extending its boundaries.

“Obviously we’re delighted,” said Charles LiMandri, a lawyer aiding defenders of the memorial, according to Copley News Service. “I think even the more liberal side of the Democratic Party has to recognize that there is widespread, grassroots support for preserving veterans memorials in general and the Soledad cross in particular.”

The Senate action marked another in a series of recent wins for those seeking to prevent a court from removing the cross, which was erected in 1954 as a tribute to veterans of the Korean War.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy blocked enforcement of a federal judge’s order for San Diego to remove the cross by Aug. 1 or pay $5,000 a day in fines. Kennedy’s July 7 decision prevented fines until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court rules on the case. The Ninth Circuit will hear the case in mid-October.

Congress passed in 2004 a bill designating the cross as a national memorial in honor of veterans and authorizing federal ownership of it if San Diego donated it. In 2005, San Diego voters approved with a 76 percent majority an initiative authorizing the city to give the memorial to the federal government. A state judge, however, ruled the measure was unconstitutional.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R.-Calif., sponsored the House bill approved by the Senate. California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats, urged their colleagues to approve Hunter’s measure.

“The Mount Soledad cross has been a great source of hope and inspiration for decades, and it has important historical significance to veterans and San Diegans alike,” Feinstein said in a written statement before Senate passage. “I do not believe it should be torn down.”

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