The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the Dixie County Ten Commandments case Thursday, but the litigants weren't focused on whether or not a 6-ton Ten Commandments model in front of the county courthouse is unconstitutional. Instead, attorneys spent most of their time debating whether an anonymous plaintiff has standing to bring the claim, reports The Associated Press.
Local businessman Joe Anderson, Jr. paid $20,000 for a Ten Commandments monument that was installed on top of the Dixie County courthouse steps. In addition to the actual commandments, the monument includes a large message at the base, which reads, "LOVE GOD AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, acting on behalf of an anonymous member, "John Doe," sued the county, demanding that the monument should be removed because it constituted government endorsement of religion. The county countered that the monument was not a government endorsement because it was owned and maintained by Anderson, a private citizen.
In July, Judge Maurice Paul ruled that, "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."
We all know by now that Establishment Clause jurisprudence is a mess. As Justice Clarence Thomas noted last year in his Utah Highway Patrol Association v. American Atheists, Inc. dissent, the Supreme Court reached conflicting conclusions regarding Ten Commandments displays in two 2005 cases. A majority of the Court declined to apply the Lemon/endorsement test when upholding a Ten Commandments display located at the Texas State Capitol, but applied the Lemon/endorsement test to declare a Ten Commandments display in a Kentucky courthouse to be unconstitutional.
Both opinions were issued on the same day.
Luckily, Thursday's arguments weren't just bogged down in Establishment Clause chaos; there was the added element of standing. The county claims that John Doe's standing is precarious; Doe named the monument on a "laundry list" of complaints explaining why he wouldn't buy property in the county. The ACLU says that there's precedent to give Doe standing, reports the AP.
What do you think? Will the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals toss the Dixie County Ten Commandments case for lack of standing?
- Hearing Thursday in Dixie's Ten Commandments Appeal (The Gainesville Sun)
- ACLU v. Dixie County Florida (ACLU of Florida)
- No Supreme Court Review for Forsyth County Prayer Case (FindLaw's Fourth Circuit Blog)