Rep. Duncan Asks Bush to Help Save San Diego War Vet Cross

The House Armed Services Committee chairman asked President Bush to help save a 29-foot cross standing on city property from being removed by a court order.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, along with Mayor Jerry Sanders, on Thursday asked the president to exercise his power of eminent domain and take over the half-acre cross site atop Mount Soledad.

Hunter, a Republican who has backed legislation to protect the cross, sent a letter to the White House requesting "urgent assistance" to keep it intact.

"The federal government has lots of memorials with crosses on it," he said. "According to the court decisions, you'd have to dismantle Arlington (National) Cemetery."

Hunter said he had not yet heard back from Bush. A White House spokesman did not return a message left seeking comment.

Last week, a federal judge in San Diego ordered the city to take down the cross within 90 days or face $5,000 in daily fines. It was the latest twist in a 17-year battle waged by a self-described atheist against the cross, which was raised in 1954 in memorial of Korean War veterans.

"It would be nice to see the federal government maintaining it and handling the lawsuits," Sanders said.

U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson Jr. first issued an injunction against the Soledad cross in 1991, forbidding the city to leave it standing on public land because it violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

"It is now time, and perhaps long overdue," Thompson wrote in his May 3 ruling, for the court to enforce that decision.

Atheist Philip Paulson first filed suit against the cross's possessive placement in 1989. The city has tried to sell the property to a private buyer. But federal courts have repeatedly blocked the sale, saying the transactions were designed to favor a buyer who would keep the cross. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the city's appeal in 2003.

A city-sponsored referendum asking permission from residents to sell the property failed in 2004, but voters approved a second referendum the following year to transfer the land to the federal government.

A Superior Court judge ruled that the 2005 measure was an "unconstitutional aid to religion." That decision is being appealed by the city.