Congress Approves Federal Control of Cross

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed legislation Aug. 1 to transfer ownership of Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego to the federal government, the latest twist in an escalating battle over the legality of a publicly displayed cross.

The House previously passed the bill; the measure now awaits a signature from President Bush, whose administration has supported it. “The people of San Diego have clearly expressed their desire to keep the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in its present form. Judicial activism should not stand in the way of the people,” said a statement from the White House.

The 29-foot cross currently sits on city property as part of a veteran’s memorial. The bill passed by Congress would transfer control of the property to the federal government. The battle over the towering cross has lasted more than 15 years after an atheist Vietnam War veteran, Philip Paulson, filed a lawsuit that said the cross’s placement violated the separation of Church and state.

 Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in the case, which suspended a lower court decision that would have forced the city to remove the cross from public land or risk a $5,000-per-day fine.

(RNS)

Missouri Catholics’ Move Prompts Complaint to IRS

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Attempts by the Missouri Catholic Conference to inform voters about thousands of dollars in contributions to state officeholders from a political action committee supporting embryonic stem-cell research have prompted a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service.

“We take this complaint very seriously,” said Deacon Larry Weber, executive director of the conference, the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops. “However, we believe strongly that we didn’t violate the IRS code or regulations,” Deacon Weber said. “We’re only seeking to provide information and clarify who is taking funding from supporters of embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning. People are known by the company they keep.”

Deacon Weber said discrepancies in campaign finance disclosure reports filed by officeholders and by a political action committee, Supporters of Health Research and Treatments, prompted the conference to write letters in April to each state lawmaker asking if he or she had received a contribution from the committee and intended to return it. “The MCC is committed to informing Missouri voters about the political activities of organizations promoting human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research, and will report to Missouri voters about candidates who associate with such organizations,” Deacon Weber wrote in the letter to officeholders. “Missouri voters deserve to know which candidates support or oppose these immoral activities.”

(CNS)

Bush Names New Head of Faith-based Office

WASHINGTON — The White House has announced that Jay Hein, the president of an Indianapolis-based international think tank, has been chosen as the new director of the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. Hein, president of the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, will succeed Jim Towey, a former aide to Mother Teresa who left the post to become the president of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., on July 1.

Hein also is vice president and chief executive officer of the Foundation for American Renewal, a charity that provides grants and other support to community-based organizations.

Prior to his leadership of the Sagamore Institute, Hein was executive director of Civil Society Programs at the Hudson Institute, now based in Washington. He previously worked as a welfare reform policy assistant to former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson. He’s an elder at Grace Community Church in Noblesville, Ind.

“Jay has long been a leading voice for compassionate conservatism and a champion of faith and community-based organizations,” President Bush said in an Aug. 3 statement. “By joining my administration, he will help ensure that these organizations receive a warm welcome as government’s partner in serving our American neighbors in need.”

 (RNS)