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 THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

Legal Challenges: Year 2000

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Read about events from the year 1999

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Year 2000 legal challenges and court decisions:

bullet2000-JAN-27: Colorado: Hearings were held on a state bill to require that the Ten Commandments be posted on Colorado public schools, both on the classroom walls and entryways. Also, every public school would begin each day with reflection "on our heritage as a free people in one nation under God." The "Moral Heritage" bill was introduced by Senator John Andrews (R-Englewood). Andrews argued that his bill was educational and not religious. Darrell Scott, father of Rachel Scott who died at Columbine pointed out that since the U.S. Supreme Court declared classroom prayer unconstitutional, SAT scores have dropped, violence has increased, and teenage pregnancies have soared. Evie Hudak of the Colorado PTA opposed the bill because "it's the parents' responsibility to see to the spiritual education of their children -- not the schools'." 1
bullet2000-FEB-9: Indiana: According to the Maranatha Christian Journal, the Indiana Senate approved a bill to allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed within a collection with other historical documents, in schools and government offices. The vote was 38 to 9. To our knowledge, this is the first state or federal "Ten Commandment" bill in recent years that might actually be constitutional. The corresponding House bill would authorize the posting of the Commandments in isolation -- a clearly unconstitutional practice. "Pro-Ten Commandments bills also are being considered in at least five states, Kentucky, Colorado, Georgia, South Dakota and Oklahoma.
bullet2000-FEB-9: Illinois: House Bill 3854, sponsored by Representative James Fowler (R-Harrisburg) was passed by a House Committee. It would ban "content-based censorship of American history or heritage based on any religious references contained in these documents, writings or records." Edwin C. Yohnka, ACLU Director of Communications commented: "The Illinois General Assembly simply cannot rearrange constitutional protections to gain political advantage. The sponsor of this legislation acknowledged in the Committee hearing that the legislation's central purpose is to facilitate posting the Ten Commandments in public schools -- a clear violation of federal law and the Illinois state constitution." The school board in Harrisburg had earlier voted to display the Ten Commandments. They reversed their decision one day before the ACLU was to file a federal lawsuit. Yohnka commented: "This is simply another effort by an ideologically driven group to force their views upon an entire community. In Harrisburg, we heard numerous disturbing stories about the way in which that controversy caused intolerance and disunity.  We do not need for this process to be repeated all over the State of Illinois."
bullet2000-FEB-15: Kentucky: House Bill 111 had been stalled in committee for weeks. It would have allowed voters in individual school districts to hold a referendum and decide whether the Ten Commandments would be posted in their schools. The bill would have required the schools to teach the Commandments along with the codes of other religions. Senator Albert Robinson (R-London) objected because the schools would then teach religious codes other than Christianity. He said ''When the boat came to these great shores, it did not have an atheist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew. Ninety-eight-plus percent of these people were Christians.'' [Author's note: Robinson appears to be unaware that as the first boat approached the shoreline of North America, 100% of the inhabitants of the hemisphere followed Native American spirituality. And then, of course, there were untold numbers of boats conveying slaves to America who followed Native African Spirituality or Islam. We have given our third Burning Times Award to Senator Robinson] He sponsored his own bill SJR57 in the form of a joint resolution. House Bill 111 allows community groups or individuals to pay for the cost of installing and maintaining displays of the Commandments. It was supported by 32 cosponsors. Senator Ernesto Scorsone (D-Lexington) was the only person to vote against the bill when it finally came to a vote; he was concerned about its constitutionality. The resolution passed 37 to 1.
bullet2000-FEB-28: Pope's views on the Decalog: At the foot of a mountain that some Christians believe is Mount Sinai, Pope John Paul II said that the Ten Commandments "are not an arbitrary imposition of a tyrannical Lord. They were written in stone; but, before that, they were written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and place. Today, as always, the Ten Words of the Law provide the only true basis for the lives of individuals, societies and nations. Today as always, they are the only future of the human family. They save man from the destructive force of egoism, hatred, and falsehood. They point out all the false gods that draw him into slavery: the love of self to the exclusion of God, the greed for power and pleasure that overturns the order of justice and degrades our human dignity and that of our neighbor." The Pope visited the Church of the Transfiguration at the world's oldest Christian monastery in the world. It dates from the 6th century CE. The Orthodox abbot and monks were unable to pray with the Pope. The Abbot explained: "There is still no full ecclesial communion. That is why we cannot pray together."
bullet2000-MAR-14: Indiana: Governor Frank O'Bannon signed a Ten Commandments bill into law. He also decreed that a new state monument of the Decalogue will be built on the statehouse lawn to replace an earlier monument that had been damaged by vandals. It will weigh over 9 tons. It will be financed with private donations. The American Civil Liberties Union is expected to initiate a lawsuit. John Krull, executive director of the ACLU in Indiana warned, "The state can't pick and choose which religions are historically valid.2 

This essay continues below.

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bullet2000-APR-18: California: In 1995, Edward DiLoreto had paid the Downey High School Baseball Booster Club $400 to display his sign at the baseball field of Downey High School, in Downey CA. The sign included a copy of the Ten Commandments, with a statement asking people to "pause and meditate on these principles to live by!" Other, non-religious signs had already been allowed in the same advertising space. The school district removed the advertisement, and cancelled the contract. They cited separation of church and state issues, and concern over disruption and controversy. The school district subsequently removed all advertising from the baseball field fence. DiLoreto sued. He lost the case in Superior Court and at the Court of Appeals. Judge Susan Illston of the Court of Appeals ruled: "Government polices and practices that historically have allowed commercial advertising, but have excluded political and religious expression, indicate an intent not to designate a public forum for all expressive activity, but to reserve it for commercial speech...In this case, the District did not intend to designate the baseball field fence as a public forum for expressive activity.  To raise funds, the District solicited business advertisements, thereby limiting the content of the forum through its solicitation process. District officials excluded certain subjects from the advertising forum as sensitive or too controversial for the forum's high school context." Noting that an advertisement from Planned Parenthood had also been rejected, the court concluded that the baseball field fence was "a forum limited to certain subjects and not open for indiscriminate use by the general public," and that district officials were within their rights in refusing ads "that would be disruptive to the educational purpose of the school."

On 2000-APR-17, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, DiLoreto v. Board of Education. The lower court ruling stands.
bullet2000-MAY-18: Status in USA:
bulletBills concerning the posting of the Ten Commandments have been introduced in the legislatures of 12 states
bulletIndiana, Kentucky, and South Dakota have new laws on the books which authorize posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools and government offices.
bulletRealizing that the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools is unconstitutional, legislators in a few states have introduced bills that allow them to be posted in a display with other historical legal documents.
bullet2000-MAY-19: Kentucky: Federal Judge Jennifer B. Coffman ordered state officials to remove wall displays that include the Ten Commandments from public school classrooms and from two county courthouses. She alleged that the displays implied a government endorsement of a specific religion. She wrote: "each and every document [in the displays] refers to religion. Several have been edited to include only their religious references. Indeed, the only unifying element among the documents is their reference to God, the Bible, or religion." The displays consisted of the  Mayflower Compact, the preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, a proclamation issued by President Ronald Reagan declaring 1983 The Year of the Bible, an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, an 1863 proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln designating a National Day of Prayer and Humiliation, and the national motto "In God We Trust." The defendants contend that these documents are historical in nature; they have filed motions to stay the injunctions with both the U.S. District Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Defense lawyer Colonel Ronald D. Ray said: "You can’t call the Congressional Record a religious document. That flies in the face of the Constitution, which provides for the Congressional Record. This is censorship of the permanent and official history of American civil government." Earlier, McCreary County Judge-Executive Jimmie W. Greene said: "Before I personally take them down I will resign my office or go to jail. I respect the law, but this would be one order I would have to disobey." He later changed his mind and led a group of supporters to move the documents from the county courthouse to the local American Legion post. Schools in Harlan County removed the religious documents but left the frames on the wall. Liberty Counsel, a Fundamentalist Christian legal firm has said that they would withdraw their appeal before the 6th Circuit Court.  Erik Stanley, an attorney with the group, said that the odds of winning a new hearing "are pretty bleak." A compromise solution will be sought.
bullet2000-JUN-15: Indiana: The Elkhart School Board rejected by a vote of 6 to 1 a suggestion that the Ten Commandments be displayed along with historical documents. A local lawyer, Paul Eash, told the board that he was willing to act on their behalf in any future lawsuit, at a reduced rate. The Indiana Attorney General's office would also assist the board. Supporters of the Commandments maintained that the nation's founding fathers were Christians who wanted Christianity in the public schools. They expressed concern about an alleged moral decline in the nation since the Supreme Court eliminated mandatory prayer and Bible verse recitation from public schools. One supporter said: "Things are getting out of control; I'm in favor of posting them. We have to do something." In opposition was Mike Suetkamp, the State Director for American Atheists. Commenting on supporters of Commandments, he said: "The motivation of these people has nothing to do with history ...it has to do with promoting their beliefs over others...To post these [Commandments] as a moral law is wrong." He pointed out that many of the country's founding fathers were Deists, not Christians. He said that the Commandments violated the spirit of the Bill of Rights. Susan Dry pointed out that "Any student who does not support the posting of the Ten Commandments will be subject to harassment...Non-Christians are a minority, and we have to be protected from the tyranny of the majority." 3
bullet2000-NOV-14: Indiana: Monument for statehouse lawn: According to the Indianapolis Star: A massive limestone monument, engraved with the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights, and the preamble to the U.S. Constitution was originally built to be installed on the statehouse lawn. It is seven feet tall and weighs 9.5 tons. U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker had ruled the display to be unconstitutional. However, Lawrence County commissioners arranged to have the monument placed temporarily on their courthouse lawn pending an appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Commenting on the courthouse installation, Judge Barker said: "You have to leave room for people to have greatly different views from yours." Two dozen adults attended court in support of the commissioners. In an apparent reference to the lawsuit brought by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a single plaintiff, Rodney Burton voiced an unusual legal principle: "We think it's unconstitutional that one person in Lawrence County can go against everyone else."
bullet2000-DEC-14: Indiana: Second monument must go: The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 1958 monument of the Ten Commandments in front of the Elkhart, Indiana municipal building violated the Establishment clause separation of church and state. They wrote:
bullet"As a starting point, we do not think it can be said that the Ten Commandments, standing by themselves, can be stripped of their religious, indeed sacred, significance and characterized as a moral or ethical document."
bullet"Even if we were to ignore the primary purpose behind displaying the Ten Commandments monument, we would have to conclude that this particular display has the primary or principal effect of advancing religion..."

This decision reversed a 1999-DEC ruling by U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp who found the monument constitutional. He noted that the monument had a secular purpose: the promotion of morality in youth. It contained Jewish, Christian and secular symbols. It was located near some war monuments. Mike Suetkamp, Indiana State Director for American Atheists, commented: "There are several suits throughout the state dealing with Ten Commandment displays on government property, including the one on the grounds of the state capitol. This [Elkhart decision] could have an important impact in having these unconstitutional religious symbols removed...It's been worth the fight." 4 See event of 2001-MAY-29 below.

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Continue with events from the year 2001

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Related essays on this site:

bulletA detailed analysis of the Ten Commandments
bulletRecent U.S. court rulings on separation of church and state
bulletThe Istook Constitutional Amendment
bulletPrayer in the public schools

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References:

  1. John Sanko, "Bill spurs emotional hearing," Denver Rocky Mountain News, 2000-JAN-28, at: http://insidedenver.com/
  2. "Atheistic director charges proselytizing by commandments supporters, as board rejects display same," AANEWS, 2000-JUN-15. 
  3. "Atheist director wins as federal circuit court strikes Ten Commandment monument in Indiana," AANEWS for 2000-DEC-13.

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Site navigation: Home page > Religious LawsTen Commandments > here

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Copyright © 2000, 2001 & 2004, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JUL
Latest update: 2004-AUG-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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