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Local Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and two fellow Republican congressmen have introduced legislation aimed at protecting the Mount Soledad Cross by transferring the land under the moment to the Department of Defense.

A federal judge, moving to enforce a previous ruling that the religious symbol cannot stand on public land, recently told the city it has until Aug. 1 to remove the cross or it will start to incur $5,000 a day in fines. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders has said that the city will not pay the fines, implying that that he plans to remove the cross should all the city’s legal and political appeals fail. He and City Attorney Mike Aguirre announced plans last week to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the city’s case for saving the cross.

The legislation, H.R. 5683, was announced on Hunter’s Web site today. It is apparently a joint effort by Hunter, Reps. Darrel Issa, R-Vista, and Brian Bilbray, R-Carlsbad.

The basic idea of the legislation is to ask Congress to instruct President Bush to take the land the cross sits on by eminent domain, Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said. Hunter has previously asked the president to intervene on the cross issue – last month he and Sanders sent the president letters requesting his intervention. Kasper said the bill is the “legislative version” of those requests.

The legislative process can be lengthy, but Kasper said it is certainly possible that the bill will get through committee hearings and the House and Senate before Aug. 1.

“Congressman Hunter wouldn’t have introduced this otherwise,” Kasper said.

Kasper also acknowledged that this is, in essence, Hunter’s version of Sanders’ last-chance effort to save the cross.

“The Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial has been a fixture of our local community for over 50 years, honoring veterans of all wars, including the Global War on Terrorism,” Hunter was quoted on his Web site as saying. “Unfortunately, this Memorial and its proud history has been identified as offensive and in violation of the California State Constitution by liberal judges who have sided with a self-proclaimed atheist receiving legal and financial support from the ACLU.

“The fight to save the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial is not about religion. It’s about protecting a symbol of our freedom and honoring those who have chosen to defend it all costs. Removing this long recognized and respected landmark is an insult to the men and women memorialized on its walls and the service and sacrifice of those who have worn a uniform in defense of our nation.”

WILL CARLESS

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