ACLU Challenges Fla. County’s Ten Commandments Monument

14 02 2007

Filed under: ACLU, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Ten Commandments, Church and State

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing to force rural Dixie County to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse steps.

The 5-foot-tall, 6-ton black granite monument stands in front of a building for the courthouse, the elections supervisor’s office, the tax collector and other public offices. The lawsuit filed in federal court on Feb. 6 claims the monument heaps on its religious message with the inscription “Love God and Keep His Commandments” in large capital letters at its base.

The lawsuit, ACLU of Florida v. Dixie County (pdf), argues that the monument violates the First and 14th Amendments because it is not part of a historical display and because the uniquely Judeo-Christian message of the Ten Commandments on a government building could intimidate people with different religious beliefs.

The suit asserts that the monument constitutes “government endorsement of a particular religion” and fosters “excessive government entanglement with religion.”

The suit was filed on behalf of the organization, not an individual plaintiff. The ACLU said it has “half a dozen” members in the north Florida county, but declined to name any residents who might testify in the case. “This lawsuit is likely to be a very unpopular lawsuit within Dixie County,” said Florida ACLU Executive Director Howard Simon.

An initial effort to challenge the legality of the Dixie County monument fizzled because activists couldn’t find a resident willing to sue.

The lack of an individual plaintiff may doom the case, said Brian Rooney, a spokesman for the nonprofit Thomas More Law Center, which has offered free legal aid to the Dixie County Commission. Commissioners have not yet asked the center to represent them.

“It’s interesting that they don’t seem to have a plaintiff,” Rooney said. “Once we get involved in the meat of the case, that’s the first thing we’re going to find out. Is there a case or controversy at all? That’s a big hurdle for them to get past.”

Yeah, a plaintiff would certainly help. Anyone, anyone?

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that religious displays are not inherently unconstitutional and must be considered on a case-by-case basis. Last year, the high court allowed the Ten Commandments to be displayed outside the Texas state Capitol but not inside two Kentucky courthouses, where the justices said the displays promoted a religious message.

I dealt with the unconstitutional tying of the First Amendment to the Fourteenth last year. The ACLU’s claims that this violates both is another example of how they are creating laws that are not in the Constitution.

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