(CNSNews.com) - Efforts to save a 43-foot tall cross on top of Mount Soledad in San Diego appear to be paying off.
Congress has now joined the fight to keep the cross where it is by designating the land on which it stands -- and the granite walls surrounding it -- as a national veterans' memorial.
The Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which defends the religious freedom of Christians, said U.S. Reps. Duncan Hunter and Randy "Duke" Cunningham, both California Republicans, inserted the memorial designation into the omnibus spending bill that Congress passed on Saturday.
According to the congressional designation, once the City of San Diego donates the land to the United States, the Secretary of the Interior would administer the memorial as a unit of the National Park System.
With help from the American Civil Liberties Union, an atheist named Phillip Paulson has waged a 15-year legal battle to get the cross removed. A federal court has backed Paulson, ordering San Diego to remove the cross, which was erected 50 years ago to honor U.S. veterans.
Both Paulson and the ACLU of San Diego criticized the federal measure designating city land around the cross as a national veterans' memorial. The ACLU called it "political gamesmanship."
But San Diego attorney Charles LiMandri of the Thomas More Law Center called the congressional action "an act of God." He said Congress is not endorsing religion
by declaring the cross a veterans' memorial -- and he pointed to crosses honoring veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Law Center, said, "Those who want the Mt. Soledad cross removed erroneously base their case on the 'separation of church and state,' a phrase found nowhere in the Constitution.
"This cross and memorial, soon to be officially designated a national veterans memorial is constitutionally permissible. It's time to stop government by the ACLU and for the ACLU."
President Bush is expected to sign the omnibus spending bill within the next few weeks. But defenders of the Mt. Soledad cross acknowledge the battle is far from over.
"We fully expect further legal challenges to tear down the cross, but we are not giving up either," said Thompson.
Donald E. Wildmon, founder and chairman of the American Family Association, is urging his group to send an urgent email to President Bush, asking him to make Mt. Soledad a national memorial.
Wildmon notes that under a federal law known as the Antiquities Act, the president may designate landmarks and structures as national monuments, making the land on which they sit federal property. Former President Bill Clinton used the Antiquities Law to establish various new national monuments during his term.
In addition, Wildmon noted, the Historic Sites Act allows the Secretary of the Interior to designate certain places as national historic landmarks, bringing them under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
Just this month, on Veterans' Day, a new plaque was added to the Mt. Soledad Memorial to honor President Reagan, further strengthening its status as a monument worthy of national protection, Wildmon said.