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US House votes to seize San Diego cross property at center of court dispute

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives on Wednesday approved [roll call] a measure [HR 5863 summary; PDF text] to seize land on Mount Soledad in San Diego to resolve a dispute over whether a 29-foot cross honoring Korean War veterans [backgrounder] on the property is a government endorsement of religion. The House agreed to transfer the land to the Defense Department before an expected appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] this fall because federal law interpreting the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [text] has been more permissive toward religious displays on public property than the California constitution [text]. San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre said the House measure, if it becomes law, would merely set the stage for another court challenge because the federal government has no basis seize the city property.

Earlier this month, US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy ordered the continuation of a temporary stay [JURIST reports] against the removal of the monumental cross pending the Ninth Circuit appeal. Kennedy issued the original stay after a district court ordered [Union-Tribune report] in May that the cross be removed by Aug. 2 and that the city be fined $5,000 a day if it was not, finding that the cross constitutes a state endorsement of religion. Philip Paulson, an atheist and Vietnam War veteran, has been challenging the cross for more than 16 years [Paulson commentary]. AP has more. The San Diego Union-Tribune has local coverage.

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