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 THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

LEGAL DEVELOPMENTS: YEAR 2003

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Read about events from other years

The judge Moore case in Alabama is discussed elsewhere

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Legal challenges and court decisions:

bullet2003-JAN-13: FL: Crestview city council votes to not post the Decalogue: For the second time in seven months, the city council voted to not post the Decalogue on city property. However, the vote was 3 to 2, so a single change in a future vote could reverse the decision. Several local citizens pleaded with the Council to erect the display, even though Americans United threatened a lawsuit. Councilman Sam Hayes said that he may change his vote if local churches agree to pay the legal cost of defending the city in court. He said: "I'm all for the Ten Commandments. I don't want to put the burden of higher taxes on the ordinary citizens. We don't have the money. To raise the money, we have to raise taxes." He also expressed concern that members of other religions might wish to display similar materials beside the Ten Commandments. All five councilpersons are up for re-election in March. Some speakers at the meeting threatened to retaliate in the polls against any council members who voted against the proposal. Council President Kathleen Bowman said: "We're turning our back on God."
bullet2003-JUN-??: GA: Court declares symbolic Ten Commandments constitutional: The 11th U.S.  Circuit of Appeals, which had declared Judge Moore's 2.5 ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments unconstitutional, earlier ruled that Richmond County, GA, can retain a symbol representing the Decalogue on their county seal. The reason was that the badge did not include the actual text of the Ten Commandments. Displaying the simple outline of a pair of tablets, or showing tablets with the numbers I to X (as was shown in the Cecil B. DeMille move "Ten Commandments") is constitutional. 2
bullet2003-JUN-26: PA: Court allows Ten Commandment to remain on display: The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Decalogue plaque could remain on the front facade of the Chester County Courthouse in West Chester, PA. The local Religious Education Council had donated the plaque in 1920. It includes the text of the Ten Commandments with quotations from Exodus, Deuteronomy and Mathew. According to AANEWS: "Writing for the court, Judge Becker noted that the display was situated under a portico of columns so that a casual passerby would see only the words 'The Commandments.'  He quoted one County Commissioner who argued that this observer ' would not know whether they're the commandments of the Commissioners, the President Judge (sic) or of Moses.'  A visitor would have to 'climb the steps leading to the historic entrance' in order to view the full text." The main entrance to the Courthouse has moved some 70 feet away from the plaque since 1920. The court also noted that no government has expended funds to preserve the plaque, and that nobody had complained for the past 83 years about its presence. They ruled that the plaque did not convey to a "reasonable observer" any endorsement of religion by the government. They decided that an "observer" would conclude that the county did not actively maintain the plaque, and would consider the display as being related to local history. Stanley Presser of the American Civil Liberties Union disagreed. He pointed out that  this decision conflicts with those by three other U.S. Circuit courts -- a problem which can only be resolved by a definitive ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. Presser said: "The plaque speaks for itself, day in and day out, proclaiming an observance and belief in God and in a particular [form] of that deity." 2
bullet2003-JUL-18: AZ: ACLU asks for removal of monument: The Fraternal Order of Eagles placed a Ten Commandments monument in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix, AZ in 1956. This is a mall adjacent to the state capitol, which is controlled by the Arizona state government. The American Civil Liberties Union has asked that the monument be removed because its presence is unconstitutional. Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union is reported as saying: "I think the law is pretty clear and quite recent. Posting the Ten Commandments is an endorsement of specific religions." She said that the local ACLU chapter receives three or four calls a year objecting to the monument. There are a number of secular monuments in the Plaza, but the monument containing Ten Commandments, and another monument commemorating the genocide of Armenian Christians by the government of Turkey early in the 20th century are the only ones with a religious message. Senator Mark Anderson, (R-Mesa), wants to keep the monument where it is because he believes the text forms the basis of the American legal system. Representative Andy Biggs, (R-Gilbert) said: "It seems like the ACLU wants to deny the fundamental principles of our American heritage. I find it offensive that the ACLU continually tries to strip our society of any reference to religious worship of any kind." The latter comment appears to be a misunderstanding of the ACLU position. They would have no objection if the monument were simply removed to private property, perhaps on the grounds of a church. 3 The Center for Arizona Policy and a number of other conservative Christian groups organized a prayer rally at the monument.
bullet2003-JUL-25: KS: Municipal government decides to relocate Ten Commandments monument: The Fraternal Order of Eagles donated a Decalogue monument to the Unified government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City in the early 1960s. After the American Civil Liberties Union notified the government that it intended to launch a lawsuit to force removal of the monument, the government decided to relocate it about 150 feet across the street onto the property of St. Mary's-St. Anthony's Catholic Church. 4
bullet2003-SEP-18: IA: Fundamentalist Christian group wants Decalogue display: The Iowa Family Policy Center organized a demonstration of "close to 200 people" at the Iowa Supreme Court building in Des Moines. They urged the court to accept what they view to be a cultural display of historic legal documents. Included are the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, Star-spangled Banner, the preamble to the Iowa Constitution and the Ten Commandments. Court officials declined the offer, believing that posting the Decalogue could be interpreted as an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the state. It could trigger a lawsuit. 5 On the IowaChannel web site, an informal poll of 3,055 visitors showed that 71% favored the posting of the Ten Commandments; 27% were opposed.
bullet2003-SEP: AL: State Senate passes bill: The Alabama Senate has approved a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would permit the display of the Ten Commandments in government buildings.  The vote was 25-0, even though the amendment would be clearly unconstitutional because it violates the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The House will now consider the legislation. 6
bullet2003-SEP: MT: Monument removed: A Ten Commandments monument which was located in front of the Custer County Courthouse in Miles City, Montana, has been removed, following a six year legal battle. County Commissioner Duane Mathison said: "We had no choice.  They had to be removed." 6

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bullet2003-OCT-1: NC: Counter-demonstration scheduled: Wayne Aiken, North Carolina State Director for American Atheists led a demonstration in Raleigh NC to counter the "Save the Commandments" Caravan rallies at the state capitol. He said: "The rally is completely misnamed. This isn't so much about the Ten Commandments per se, it's about using government power and force to spread sectarian religion. When Commandments supporters attack church-state separation, they're really attacking religious freedom itself.  They only beliefs they're about are their own, and they would eagerly enforce them on others." He said that such a philosophy masquerading under a government "right to acknowledge God" is really "Anti-American in the extreme, and closer to the philosophy of Osama bin Laden than Thomas Jefferson."

American Atheists President, Ellen Johnson, said: "There are over 350,000 mosques, churches, temples, synagogues and other 'houses of worship' in this country, and there is plenty of private land where religious people can display their symbols and worship any deity they choose. This issue is about using government resources to promote religion in general, and often a specific sectarian creed in particular.  Doing that insults and marginalizes every Atheist and other nonbeliever in the country." Because the disputes appear to entirely center around Christian documents, one might extend the insults and marginalization to include everyone in the country who is neither a Jew, Christian nor Muslim. 6
bullet2003-OCT-6: DC: Demonstration in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building: On the first day of the court's new term, religious demonstrators erected a tall wooden cross in front of the Supreme Court building. They set up six wooden coffins, each labeled with the name of a past court ruling, such as the Roe v. Wade and the  Lawrence v. Texas decisions in 1973 and 2003. The Associated Press estimated that 200 demonstrators were present. 7
bullet2003-DEC:  GA: Barrow County lawsuit: Lawyers for the County asked that a lawsuit be stayed because the name of the plaintiff has not been made public. The American Civil Liberties Union initiated the case on 2003-SEP-16 in the name of a John Doe. The issue involves a framed copy of the Ten Commandments which hangs in a breezeway at the Barrow Country Courthouse. 8

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Related essays on this site

bullet Ten Commandments legal conflicts in past years
bulletA detailed analysis of the Ten Commandments
bulletRecent U.S. court rulings on separation of church and state
bulletThe Istook Constitutional Amendment: 1995-1996
bulletThe Istook Constitutional Amendment: 1997-1999
bulletPrayer in the public schools

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Continue with events from the year 2004

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References:

  1. "Crestview council says no to Ten Commandments, but may reconsider," Associated Press, 2003-JAN-14. Online at the Herald Tribune newspaper, Sarasota FL, at: http://www.heraldtribune.com/
  2. "On to the Supreme Court? Moore announces appeal in Ten Commandments case as lower courts divide," AA News, 2003-JUL-3.
  3. Michael Clancy, "ACLU seeks religion-free Bolin Plaza," The Arizona Republic, 2003-JUL-18, at: http://www.azcentral.com/
  4. "Ten Commandments to be moved," Associated Press, 2003-JUL-25, at: http://www.ljworld.com/
  5. "Group Wants Ten Commandments In State Building. Close To 200 People Rally In Support Of Display," The Iowa Channel, 2003-SEP-18, at: http://www.theiowachannel.com
  6. AANews, 2003-SEP-30.
  7. "Supreme Court sessions starts with protest," Associated Press, 2003-OCT-6, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  8. Sheri Kasprzak, "Barrow asks to delay suit," Gwinnett Daily Post, 2003-DEC-??, at: http://208.151.54.27/

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Site navigation: Home page > Religious LawsTen Commandments > here

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Copyright 2003 & 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JAN-13
Latest update: 2004-AUG-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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