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American Legion, legal groups to defend religious symbols on memorials


WASHINGTON (RNS) — The American Legion has joined forces with two conservative legal groups in a campaign to defend religious symbols on veterans’ memorials.

Reacting to suits by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups that have challenged crosses at memorials in San Diego and the Mojave Desert, the veterans organization hopes to halt future efforts that would remove religious symbols.

“We stand here today to put the ACLU and any other organization on notice that filing self-enriching lawsuits for the removal of religious symbols that are on veterans’ memorials will not be tolerated,” said American Legion Past National Commander Tom Bock at a news conference May 25.

In an interview, Bock said memorial religious symbols other than crosses would also be defended.

Two other groups, the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund and the Texas-based Liberty Legal Institute, intend to help defend city and county governments in similar legal battles.

Jeremy Gunn, director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said the symbols that often appear on veterans’ memorials “end up being majority religious symbols” and the government should not be promoting them.

Gunn said the ACLU is defending Jewish War Veterans in a case seeking the removal of the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial to private land in San Diego. The ACLU won a court decision that a cross at the Mojave Desert Preserve in Barstow, Calif., is unconstitutional, but that ruling has been appealed.