Is the first commandment of courthouse management “thou shalt not display a 6-ton Ten Commandments monument in front of a government building?”
A federal judge in Florida ruled in a Ten Commandments case last month that such displays are not permitted. Attorneys for Dixie County, Fla. are appealing decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the plaintiff in the Ten Commandments case, argues that the monument constitutes the government promoting a religious message.
In his ruling, Judge Maurice Paul found, "the actual ownership of the monument, the location and permanent nature of the display make it clear to all reasonable observers that Dixie County chooses to be associated with the message being conveyed."
The message on the Dixie County monument? "LOVE GOD AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS."
Dixie County contends that Judge Paul's ruling quashes private speech in a public forum; a private citizen paid for the $20,000 monument and pays for its maintenance.
Liberty Counsel, the nonprofit litigation, education, and policy organization that is defending Dixie County, is confident that Judge Paul's ruling will be overturned. Liberty Counsel founder Matthew Staver said he will take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, claiming, "Since 2005, we have won every Ten Commandments case except one ... The ACLU has ... lost the High Court on this issue and they are reluctant to return," reports the Florida Baptist Witness.
Staver may have reason to be confident. In 2003, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld county clerk's court seal that included an outline of the Ten Commandments.
Then again, another case may beat Staver to the high court while Dixie County's case is argued in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Ohio Judge James Deweese, who has fought to display the Ten Commandments in his courtroom for 10 years, has filed a petition with the Supreme Court to appeal a Sixth Circuit decision against his Ten Commandments display.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that displaying the Ten Commandments could be constitutional if the purpose of the display was honoring the nation's legal traditions, rather than religious traditions. The Court, however, has not considered the issue since that time. Earlier this year, the Court refused to consider the validity of Kentucky's "Foundations of American Law and Government," display.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear the Sixth Circuit's Ten Commandments case when it reconvenes.
- FindLaw's Eleventh Circuit blog (FindLaw)
- ACLU v. Dixie County Florida (ACLU of Florida)
- King v. Richmond County Georgia (FindLaw's Case Law)
- The Supreme Court Draws the Correct Ten Commandments Line(FindLaw)