Contact: Ramona Joyce, 202-263-2982, 202-445-1161 cell; Joe March/John Raughter, 317-630-1253, 317-748-1926 cell, 317-441-8847; all with The American Legion Public Relations Office
INDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 10 /Christian Newswire/ -- The leader of the nation's largest veterans organization criticized last week's decision by the 9th Circuit Court to remove a cross from a World War I veterans memorial in California's Mojave Desert as the beginning of the "slippery slope of extreme secularism."
"This is one more prime example of wrong-headed political correctness and one more critical reason why the current Congress must pass the Public Expression of Religion Act," said American Legion National Commander Marty Conatser. "This is not about freedom of religion. The First Amendment also says Congress shall pass no law 'prohibiting the free exercise' of religion. The cross is an important symbol to millions of veterans, some of whom had to make the ultimate sacrifice for this nation."
Referring to the federal Court's September 6 decision, Conatser said that across the nation litigation is being brought by the ACLU and other groups attacking the Boy Scouts, the public display of the Ten Commandments and other symbols of America's religious history. "Today's lawyers and judges are outlawing the values and religious symbols that the Founding Fathers revered and proclaimed as the very foundation of the American republic," he said. "Today it's a memorial. Tomorrow, these same judges can order the removal of crosses on veterans gravestones, the dismissal of military chaplains and the closure of base chapels."
Conatser pointed out that a loophole in the current law allows the ACLU and other groups to collect millions of dollars in attorney's fees from the taxpayers, who, by and large, support the memorials.
Congress, in 2004, passed legislation that transferred one acre of the Mojave Desert Memorial on which the cross sits to private ownership, in exchange for five acres of land and thereby effectively removing it from federal jurisdiction. But the circuit court decreed that the federal government couldn't exchange federal lands for private lands in order to maintain the cross that has been the center of the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial for three quarters of a century.
The American Legion is spearheading a nationwide effort to develop a grassroots groundswell of support to pass legislation in Congress that would amend federal law to prevent the use of the legal system in a manner that extorts money from state and local governments.
"Passage of 'The Veterans Memorials, Boy Scouts, Public Seals, and Other Public Expressions of Religion Protection Act of 2007' (PERA) would prevent the ACLU from mugging America's taxpayers in this manner," Conatser said. "I hope all Americans who are angry about this, write their senators and representatives and demand that they pass PERA. The bills, H.R. 725 and S. 415 are languishing in the Judiciary Committees of both chambers. It's time for Congress to make this public law, before other veterans' memorials are literally desecrated at the whim of judges."
The American Legion was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national security, veterans affairs, Americanism, and patriotic youth programs. The Legion's 2.7 million wartime veterans work for the betterment of their communities through more than 14,000 posts across the nation.
This text and a high-resolution photo of Cmdr. Conatser can be downloaded at www.legion.org