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Public Statements

Letter to the Honorable Eric H. Holder, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice

Senator Jim Webb joined Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) and other Senators in asking Attorney General Eric Holder to appeal a recent court ruling against the 50-year-old cross at the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego. On January 4th the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the cross was an unconstitutional government endorsement of Christianity.

"This cross has been a part of this memorial for over 50 years and has served as a symbol to honor the many sacrifices of these veterans," the Senators wrote. "The government should not take the dismantling of this memorial lightly. We strongly urge that your Department expeditiously move to appeal this misguided court decision."

The Senators cited a 2010 Supreme Court decision to overturn a similar ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding a World War I memorial cross on the Mojave National Preserve. In allowing the cross to remain at the national preserve, the Supreme Court stated that the "goal of avoiding governmental endorsement [of religion] does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm."

The full letter to Attorney General Eric Holder follows:

January 20, 2011

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
U. S. Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Attorney General Holder:

We respectfully request that you appeal the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in Jewish War Veterans v. City of San Diego to the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately, on January 4, 2011, this court ruled that the 43-foot cross at the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial was unconstitutional because, in the court's view, it projected a government endorsement of Christianity.

As you may be aware, the current cross was erected in 1954 as part of a memorial to honor Korean War veterans. The memorial is owned and maintained by the Department of Defense. The Ninth District Court of Appeal's decision overturns the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California's ruling that the cross was a constitutional part of the war memorial and could remain on Mount Soledad.

Considering that the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case similar to this issue in October of 2009, this new case seems ripe for appeal. That case, Salazar v. Buono, involved a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the World War I memorial cross on the Mojave National Preserve in California was unconstitutional. In April of 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Ninth Circuit Court erred in its determination and that the cross could remain at the national preserve. Additionally, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority's opinion that removing the Mojave Dessert cross would convey disrespect for those the cross is meant to honor and that, "The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement [of religion] does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realmÂ…The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion's role in society."

The use of the Christian cross at war memorials is not uncommon and does not constitute a government endorsement of Christianity. This cross has been a part of this memorial for over 50 years and has served as a symbol to honor the many sacrifices of these veterans. The government should not take the dismantling of this memorial lightly. We strongly urge that your Department expeditiously move to appeal this misguided court decision.

Signed:

Senators Mike Johanns (R-NE), Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Thad Cochran (R-MI), Michael Enzi (R-WY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).


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