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Supreme Court concurs with The American Legion’s

stand on public monuments

  WASHINGTON, DC (Feb. 26, 2009) – A ruling announced this week by the U.S. Supreme Court gives weight to an argument by The American Legion against the placing of public monuments that could threaten the sanctity of veterans memorials. Justices ruled unanimously that an obscure religious group cannot use a “free speech” argument to force a small Utah city to erect a granite marker in a local park that is home to a long-standing monument to the Ten Commandments.

“At first glance, this ruling may seem unrelated to us, but it actually sets a precedent that is very important to veterans groups,” said David K. Rehbein, National Commander of The American Legion. “The Justices have said, in effect, that a local government can choose what donated public displays it cares to exhibit on public land – and what displays it can reject.  This reduces the chance that a monument to an enemy or dissenting group, for instance, could be erected in the same space as a monument to our fallen warriors.”

The ruling stems from a case precipitated by a small Salt Lake City, Utah-based religious group called Summum.  Summum went to federal court after its effort to erect a marker in Pleasant Grove City, Utah was rejected by the city.  Summum maintained that the city violated its right to free speech by refusing the donated monument.  The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver agreed with the religious group, but the Supreme Court ruling reverses that decision. 

The American Legion played an active role in the oral argument phase of the case. Last year, Liberty Legal Institute in Plano, Texas filed an amicus brief on behalf of The Legion and several colleague veterans and military service organizations. The brief’s argument summary stated:

“The precedent established by the Tenth Circuit lays the foundation for the destruction of all donated veterans memorials nationwide and chills the erection of any future memorials. From the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA, to the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial on The Mall in Washington, DC, to the myriad Spirit of the American Doughboy WWI memorials like that in Ft. Smith, AR, this precedent will require all governments, from the smallest municipality to the Congress itself, to make an impossible decision: either fail to honor our veterans by any donated monument whatsoever, tear down those that currently exist, or allow a monument honoring our veterans and then, upon donation, erect on the same hallowed ground one that dishonors them.”

In his favorable Supreme Court opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said that while efforts to suppress actual speech in public parks would ordinarily violate the First Amendment, erection of donated physical entities such as markers and monuments is a different matter.  Justice Alito said "the display of a permanent monument in a public park" defines, in part, a community’s identity and, so, "cities and other jurisdictions take some care in accepting donated monuments."

Commander Rehbein notes that the Supreme Court has also agreed to hear a case later this year involving the suppression of a war memorial in the Mojave Desert. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled that the memorial to World War I veterans is unconstitutional because it is the shape of a cross, which might connote religious symbolism. A proposal to transfer the land upon which the now-cloaked monument rests to the VFW, which erected the cross in 1934, was also ruled unconstitutional by the court. “Obviously, we favor the full and free display of that monument,” said the Commander. “The Supreme Court ruling gives us hope for a good outcome in that matter, too,”

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Media contacts:  Craig Roberts,(202) 263-2982, Cell (202) 406-088 or Joe March, (317) 630-1253; Cell (317) 748-1926.  A high resolution photo of Nat. Cmdr. Rehbein is available at www.legion.org.

Golden Gate National Parks Internship (Ocean Beach and Lands End)

USS San Francisco sailor meritoriously promoted in Afghanistan

Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Matthew P. Julian, assigned to USS San Francisco (SSN 711), never expected his tour to include a rotation in the mountains of Afghanistan as an Individual Augmentee.

Pulled from his normal job to directly support Operation Enduring Freedom, more than 8,000 feet above sea level and half a world away from his boat's homeport of Bremerton, Wash., Julian found that out of sight doesn't mean out of mind.

Early this summer, Julian was selected for the Command Advancement Program (CAP) by CDR Dave Ogburn, the commanding officer of USS San Francisco, and was promoted to CS2.

Upon learning about his CAP advancement, Julian said, "It's an honor to be the only submariner CAP-ed in Afghanistan and recognized at such a high level. I am ecstatic about the promotion ... and grateful for the crew of San Francisco."

According to Ogburn, "When we sat down and reviewed his performance onboard, we saw that he was the right choice. "He's a Sailor who takes responsibility and takes charge. When I talked with CDR Varney in Afghanistan, that confirmed his performance is continuing out there."

CDR Michael Varney, commanding officer of the Sharana Provincial Reconstruction Team in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan, performed the ceremony and pinned on Julian's second class petty officer crows.

I think it is fantastic that San Francisco recognized the importance of the job CS2 Julian is doing for his country, a job completely outside a normal submariner's lane, "Varney said. "That [his CO] is willing to use a CAP-in-absentia sends a strong message to the rest of the force and the Navy."

Julian is the first Sailor to be meritoriously promoted through the Command Advancement Program while serving in a boots-on-the-ground billet away from his home ship. Since August 2005, 50 Sailors have been meritoriously promoted under the Combat Meritorious Advancement Program for their leadership and heroism during combat.

At a recent all hands call with Sailors stationed at NAS Whidbey Island, Chief of Naval Operations ADM Mike Mullen said he wanted all Navy leaders to make sure good performance as an IA was properly reflected and recognized in a Sailor's career. "This is very vital work our IAs are doing at an incredibly critical time in our nation's history, and I am committed to making sure the Navy gets it right when it comes to recognizing that fact," said Mullen.

Sailors who would like to serve in an augmented billet can indicate their desire through the Navy Knowledge Online website at https://www.nko.navy.mil, and should contact their chain of command.

Story by LT Trey Brown, Navy Office of Information, Washington, D.C

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