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Veterans group fights to protect war memorials

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The American Legion and two conservative legal organizations announced a joint project May 24 to protect the nation’s veteran and war memorials from potential lawsuits.

The effort is aimed at protecting such monuments as the Mt. Soledad cross war memorial in San Diego and the Mojave Desert cross war memorial in California — both of which have been targets of suits by the American Civil Liberties Union, with mixed results.

The Mt. Soledad cross — which was dedicated in 1954 and initially honored Korean War veterans but now honors all vets — still stands following a string of legal victories by supporters. But the Mojave Desert cross — first erected in 1934 as a memorial to World War I vets — currently is covered up due to a judge’s order. Both prominent crosses initially sat on public land, although officials have attempted to save the memorials by making the land private.

The joint project between the American Legion, the Alliance Defense Fund and Liberty Legal Institute seeks to educate the public about such lawsuits and to be proactive in defending memorials not yet under attack. ADF and Liberty Legal will represent the American Legion — the nation’s largest veterans’ service organization — in any suits.

“The question in everybody’s mind is, What about Arlington? Where does this end?” ADF attorney Joe Infranco told Baptist Press. “This is a campaign to call attention to what’s happening, to proactively identify memorials that may be in danger and to contact municipalities and offer a free legal analysis if the memorial is sued by a group like the ACLU. This project is publicizing these cases. They’re not going to fly under the radar any longer. We want Americans everywhere to know about this.

“When the largest veterans organization in the nation steps up and says it is furious and plans to fight the ACLU in every one of these cases, you know that they’ve really crossed the line.”

The ACLU says on its website that individual headstones aren’t the target and that families “have the right” to choose headstone religious symbols. But Infranco said other liberal organizations could file such a suit. In December 2005 American Atheists filed a federal suit seeking to remove crosses on public land along highways in Utah that honor state troopers killed in the line of duty. The suit argues the monuments violate the federal Constitution’s establishment clause.

Any memorial “that has any type of religious symbol” could be the target of a suit, Infranco said.

“These are progressive lawsuits. There’s clearly a goal in mind,” he said. “It’s an overused metaphor, but it’s a slippery slope.”

Said Liberty Legal’s Hiram Sasser, “It is inconceivable that in a time of war, such as now, the ACLU and others would attack the enduring memorials that give hope and solace to countless Americans and remind us all of the sacrifice of so many in our nation’s most desperate hours.”

A change at the Supreme Court has given conservatives additional hope on such cases. In 2005, when the court issued a split decision on two Ten Commandments cases, now-retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor voted against both monuments. Since both cases were decided on 5-4 votes, an affirmative vote by her would have allowed both monuments to stand.

“I think we feel a lot more confident with the current composition of the court,” Infranco said. “Justice [John] Roberts replacing Justice [William] Rehnquist seems to be a wash. [But] the addition of Justice [Samuel] Alito in place of Justice O’Connor is a profound benefit for our cases.”

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  • Michael Foust