Last updated: May 19. 2014 10:25AM - 286 Views
Thomas Crisp Contributing Columnist

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The Justice Department says a 29-foot war memorial cross on a San Diego mountain is not an unconstitutional promotion of Christianity and should remain on federal property.

The Obama administration said an appeals court ruling declaring the cross on Mount Soledad a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state undermined an act of Congress and conflicted with recent Supreme Court decisions.

But, in a filing last week to the nation’s highest court, it said an appeal should first be considered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because there is no imminent risk that the cross is removed. Last month, the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association asked to skip the appeals court and go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying it wanted to hasten resolution to a legal dispute that began in 1989.

The brief by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said “additional time for reflection” may cause the ninth Circuit to reconsider its position. It says the Justice Department will appeal to the Supreme Court if it loses.

The ninth Circuit has been an unfriendly venue to advocates of the cross, ruling in 2011 that it was unconstitutional because it sits on federal property and sending the case back to U.S. District Judge Larry Burns to consider alternatives. In December, Burns reluctantly ordered that the cross be removed but said his order would be put on hold pending appeals.

“So long as the stay remains in place, this case can proceed along the usual procedural course without causing immediate harm to the public interest,” the Justice Department wrote in its brief.

Verrilli added that the 9th Circuit’s earlier ruling was “wrong” and needs to be overturned, either by the appeals court or by the Supreme Court, according to The Los Angeles Times.

“The United States remains fully committed to preserving the Mount Soledad cross as an appropriate memorial to our nation’s veterans,” he wrote.

The concrete cross was erected in 1954 to the memory of veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean War. The federal government seized the property from the city of San Diego in 2006 through an act of Congress in an effort to prevent it from being removed.

James McElroy, an attorney for plaintiffs who have challenged the cross, said the Justice Department made the right call by refusing to join the war memorial association’s call for an immediate appeal to the Supreme Court.

“This is not a case where the cross is going to be ripped out of the ground anytime soon,” McElroy said. “There’s no reason to not go the normal course.”

The Liberty Group, a nonprofit legal group specializing in religious liberty cases, says the Supreme Court petition has received support from 19 states, the American Legion, prominent veterans and members of Congress.

“We are encouraged by the outpouring of support that the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association has received for its petition to have the U.S. Supreme Court settle, once and for all, the constitutionality of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of the Liberty Institute.

Colorado rejected marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder April 28, the third time efforts have failed to add the condition to the list of ailments for which doctors can recommend pot. Colorado allows any adult over 21 to buy marijuana, but supporters of a bill to add PTSD to the list of eight qualifying conditions to join the state’s medical marijuana registry argued that PTSD merits inclusion.

The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee rejected the bill 6-5 Monday evening after lengthy testimony from doctors and veterans. The state Health Department has twice rejected petitions to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions.

“This is, to me, not an issue about veterans,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, Colorado’s chief medical officer and head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. But he added that inadequate research exists to show marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD.

Several veterans disagreed, some wiping away tears as they told of struggling with pharmaceuticals to treat PTSD.

“Cannabis made it to where I don’t have to take any of these prescription drugs,” Iraq War veteran Sean Azzariti testified. “It saved by life.” But two doctors testified that cannabis can make PTSD symptoms worse, or make users more prone to violence or depression.

Dr. Doris Gundersen of the Colorado Psychiatric Society argued that marijuana contains several ingredients, and that giving it to a person with PTSD is “like crushing 15 kinds of antidepressants and dispensing them.”

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer, of Longmont, argued in vain that doctors would still be better suited than recreational dispensary workers to consider a kind of marijuana to relieve anxiety or other symptoms of PTSD.

“We should not have people consulting cashiers when they should be consulting doctors about their post-traumatic stress conditions,” Singer said.

Advocates say including PTSD as a qualifying condition is also necessary because medical marijuana is taxed at much lower rates that recreational pot. Wolk said his agency would again review research on marijuana as a PTSD treatment, but lawmakers never considered the idea.

While visiting some cemeteries you may notice that headstones marking certain graves have coins on them, left by previous visitors to the grave. These coins have distinct meanings when left on the headstones of those who gave their life while serving in America’s military, and these meanings vary depending on the denomination of coin. A coin left on a headstone or at the grave site is meant as a message to the deceased soldier’s family that someone else has visited the grave to pay respect. Leaving a penny at the grave means simply that you visited. A nickel indicates that you and the deceased trained at boot camp together, while a dime means you served with him in some capacity. By leaving a quarter at the grave, you are telling the family that you were with the solider when he was killed.

According to tradition, the money left at graves in national cemeteries and state veterans cemeteries is eventually collected, and the funds are put toward maintaining the cemetery or paying burial costs for indigent veterans. In the US, this practice became common during the Vietnam war, due to the political divide in the country over the war; leaving a coin was seen as a more practical way to communicate that you had visited the grave than contacting the soldier’s family, which could devolve into an uncomfortable argument over politics relating to the war.

Some Vietnam veterans would leave coins as a “down payment” to buy their fallen comrades a beer or play a hand of cards when they would finally be reunited. The tradition of leaving coins on the headstones of military men and women can be traced to as far back as the Roman Empire.

There are quite a few superstitions that compel people to leave money on a loved ones grave. By far the most popular reason is based in Greek Mythology. According to legend, Charon, the ferryman of Hades, requires payment of one coin to ferry your loved ones soul across the River Styx that separates the living from the dead. Historically, the coins were placed in the mouths of the deceased, or according to some sources, over their eyes. People who can’t pay the fee are said to be doomed to wander the shores of the river for 100 years. This sounds like reason enough to throw down a penny, just in case. Another popular reason for leaving coins on graves relates to the notorious Donnelly family, known as the Black Donnellys.

A longstanding feud with another family resulted in the brutal massacre of five Donnelly family members. Some believe that the Donnelly’s will grant a wish for anyone that leaves a penny on the Donnelly family grave. This superstition has expanded, and many now believe that a dead loved one will grant a wish if they leave a penny on their headstone, or that the loved one will watch over them and bring them good luck.

No matter what the original intention of the coin-leaver may be, it seems clear that a coin left on a headstone is a symbol of remembrance and respect. A way of telling all who pass by that the person buried there was loved and visited often. [Source: http://gravingwithjenn.com/paying-respects-why-coins-are-left-on-headstones April 2012.

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