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 THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

LEGAL DEVELOPMENTS: YEAR 2002

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Read about events from other years

Developments in the case of Chief Justice Roy Moore's monument are covered in a separate essay

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Legal challenges and court decisions:

bullet2002-FEB-25: IN: U.S. Supreme Court allows ruling to stand:  The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the State of Indiana, thus letting a lower appeals court decision stand. Only three of the nine Justices voted to hear the case. The latter decision had found a proposed monument on government property unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state. "The planned display included a four-sided block rounded to resemble tablets, with a version of the Commandments engraved in one-inch capital letters on one side of the 7'-high monument. Other surfaces would have displayed the Bill of Rights and a preamble to the 1851 state constitution."

An earlier monument was once at the location of the proposed monolith. But it was vandalized in 1991. Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter said: "There was a monument there before that was essentially destroyed by a vandal, so a Ten Commandments monument was part of our Indiana history, for over 30 years. If we're not permitted to re-establish something there, we've essentially acquiesced to that act [of vandalism]." Attorneys General from the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Virginia joined in support of the Indiana appeal.

Attorney Ken Falk of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union commented: "I'm just hoping that the officials in communities where there are various and sundry cases involving the Ten Commandments, that they listen to them [the Supreme Court] and act accordingly rather than wait for a citizen to complain and they're sued." 1

John Whitehead, of the Fundamentalist Christian legal group, Rutherford Institute, said there are a number of active Ten Commandments cases, including those in Kentucky, Ohio, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Utah. Most involve stand-alone displays. The Kentucky case is likely the next in line to go to the Supreme Court; it involves the Ten Commandments as part of a general historical display that also involves descriptions of secular laws. Whitehead said: "There (are) a lot of cases out there. Eventually one, I believe, will get to the Supreme Court." 2
bullet2002-MAR-6: PA: Judge orders removal of Ten Commandments plaque: U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell ordered officials in Chester County, PA, to remove a Ten Commandments plaque from their courthouse. The ruling was issued less than 24 hours after the completion of a two-day long trial. Atheist Sally Flynn of the Philadelphia Freethought Society had initiated a lawsuit to have the plaque removed. County officials argued that the Decalogue is so commonly known that it has lost its purely religious significance. Judge Dalzell wrote: "The only plaque on the courthouse facade with any substantive content is the Ten Commandment tablet. With neither the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the Mayflower Compact nor any other fundamental legal text flanking it, the tablet's necessary effect on those who see it is to endorse or advance the unique importance of this predominantly religious text for mainline Protestantism." Flynn, 72, said: "I'm elated. I'm doing a little dance here." She had allegedly been harassed since she filed the lawsuit in 2001. She said: "The only thing more stressful than this in my whole life was childbirth. It's the county law building and it doesn't need religious symbols on it."

Chester County Commissioner Colin A. Hanna favors appealing the decision. He said: "It seems to me there is an increasing awareness of the need for the U.S. Supreme Court to readdress the matter of religious freedom and the role to be played by government in the context of the First Amendment." Commissioner Karen Martynick, also supports an appeal, said that the decision was "sad day for Chester County. People are supportive of the plaque. They think it is part of the courthouse." Margaret Downey, spokesperson of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, opposes an appeal. She said: "This [case] has really divided our community." From the newspaper reports of this case, it appears that nobody has proposed much cheaper alternatives: making the Ten Commandments plaque constitutional by surrounding it with secular law texts, or simply moving the plaque to a private location -- perhaps a church. 3 When county workers carried out the court order to cover the plaque, a group of religious supporters attempted to prevent the work from being done. Police removed four demonstrators. 8

bullet2002-APR-8: PA: Judge orders covering of Ten Commandments plaque: A hearing into the removal of the Chester County, PA, courthouse plaque discussed the possibility of structural damage to the 155 year old building if the plaque were detached. The county wanted the plaque to stay up pending an appeal. The judge gave county officials until APR-22 to cover the plaque with a beige cloth that matches the facade of the courthouse. [One source said it was a metal covering] "NBC10," a Philadelphia PA television station conducted a poll of visitors to its web site. As of APR-9, they voted 961 to 96 to retain the plaque. 4 When county workers carried out the court order to cover the plaque, a group of religious supporters attempted to prevent the work from being done. Police removed four demonstrators. 8 More developments
bullet2002-MAY: TN: Status of about thirty Ten Commandments monuments: Hamilton County in Tennessee displays copies of the Ten Commandments in isolation. U.S.  District Court Judge R. Allan Edgar ruled that the plaques violated the separation of church and state, and ordered them removed. The county must now pay about $69,000 in legal fees, of which two-thirds has already been collected from private donations. Another court ruling in neighboring Rutherford County barred officials from displaying the Commandments in government buildings even when efforts were made to "secularize" the display by grouping it with other items such as the Declaration of Independence. About thirty other counties in the state also have displays that are apparently unconstitutional. 8
bullet2002-MAY-24: MD: Ten Commandments battle rages in Frederick: A monument containing the Ten Commandments is located in Memorial Park, a small city park dedicated to the war dead of Frederick, MD. Blake Trettien, 18, a Urbana High School senior, wrote a letter to City Hall challenging the constitutionality of the monument. The legal department agreed with Trettien. They said that the city would lose any court battle to retain the monument. The city council is divided on what future course to take and when to take it. They currently have serious budgetary and water supply problems. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is considering legal action if the city does not either remove the monument or divest itself of the park. The conservative Christian American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has offered the city free legal defense to keep the monument in place. 5
bullet2002-JUN-11: OH: Federal judge rules against Ten Commandment poster: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Common Pleas Judge James DeWeese and Richland County over a poster containing the Ten Commandments. U.S. District Judge Kathleen O'Malley ruled that DeWeese's purpose for posting the Commandments in court was "generally laudable" but "constitutionally deficient, because the debate he seeks to foster is inherently religious in character." Gene Kapp, spokesman for American Center for Law and Justice, which represented DeWeese said that an appeal was underway. 6
bullet2002-JUN: OH: Removal of displays of the Ten Commandments ordered: For three years, a court case involving statues of the Ten Commandments has drifted through Federal courts. They had been installed in 1997 during the dedication of four Adams County public schools. The American Civil Liberties Union initiated a lawsuit claiming that the statues violated the First Amendment. A federal court agreed. WCPO-TV news showed a picture of one of the displays. It appears to be a marble stone with the Ten Commandments engraved on it, mounted on a stone foundation outside a school. Pending the result of appeals, a compromise was reached in which cloth coverings were placed over the statues. However, the coverings were often removed. The court finally ordered school officials to remove the 800 pound statues. This was accomplished on 2003-JUN-9. "Opponents of the removal plan say they will hold a rally while they wait for the decision to be appealed." 12
bullet2002-AUG-2: UT: Small religious group wins court battle: Summum, a UFO oriented group in Ogden, UT, won a court battle to have a display of their "Seven Aphorisms" added to a municipal cultural display of religious and secular objects. The city officials of Ogden, most of whom are Mormons, had denied the religious group the right to erect a granite monument containing their "Seven Aphorisms."  More details.
bullet2002-AUG: NC: Dispute about Ten Commandments displays in public schools: The New Hanover County Board of Education in North Carolina is debating a proposal to create cultural displays of the Commandments and other historical documents in local public schools.  Don Hayes, chairperson of the Board's Policy Committee created the proposal. The Wilmington Star newspaper report noted that his suggestion "puts more emphasis on the Ten Commandments than on the other documents." In an unusually clear violation of the principle of separation of church and state, Hayes wants each Commandment to be followed by a corresponding state law. He said: "To me, it makes more sense if you take a commandment, and then below that list an example of the law." This would be difficult to implement, because the first four or five (depending on the translation) of the Ten Commandments talk about worshipping Yahweh. If any supporting North Carolina laws were found that require this behavior, they would clearly be unconstitutional. AANEWS commented: "Some commandments, such as the order that all must worship one God, refrain from activities like cursing or adultery, or perhaps even express unconditional obedience to (potentially abusive?) parents, could test the limits of the legal system..." Policy Committee member Maryann Nunnally said: "I'm having trouble with this whole thing.  I think we're imposing our religious traditions on a lot of other people....One of the things I believe is that you don't shove your religion down other people's throats....We've got to do the very best we can to make sure they are all equal in weight." She also raised the issue of potentially expensive lawsuits. 8
bullet2002-JUL-29: TX: Lawsuit to remove Ten Commandments monument: Thomas Van Orden's lawsuit to remove a five-foot tall Ten Commandments monument from the grounds of the State Capitol building was heard in U.S. District Court before Judge Harry Hudspeth. Orden stated: "To me, this monument says there are ins and outs in Texas. There are favored and unfavored." He is presumably referring to people who follow Judaism and Christianity, and those who follow other religions, or none.

The monument was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, and installed in 1961 . Government lawyers claimed during the trial that the Ten Commandments were not displayed for a religious reason. Rather, they represent a secular and historical purpose by showing the origin of our legal system. Jeff Boyd, deputy attorney general testified: "This case is about the right of Texas, through its government, to recognize the significant role the Ten Commandments and the Fraternal Order of Eagles have played in our history." Although the monument stands alone, the government argued that they provide a self-guided tour which includes both the monument and many other non-religious displays. The court ruling could come as soon as early September. 8,9
bullet2002-JUL-30: PA: Chester County hires more lawyers: County officials in Chester County, PA, have hired two major legal firms in an attempt to retain the Ten Commandments plaque which is located on the front of the courthouse. There are rumors of a third team being hired. Margaret Downey, a co-plaintiff in the suit and officer in the Freethought Society said that the legal battle might become "a David vs.  Goliath type of fight. It's the minority and the majority, the high-priced attorneys versus the ACLU and our volunteers." Commissioner Chairwoman Margaret Martynick revealed that along with the "dream team," further legal assistance has been offered by both the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. 8
bullet2002-DEC-12: AL: Legal battle over 5,280 pound granite monument continues: Judge Roy Moore, now Alabama Chief Justice, had a large granite monument installed in the rotunda of the state Judicial Building on 2001-AUG-1. In 2002-NOV, U.S.  District Judge Myron Thompson ordered that the rock be removed within thirty days. On DEC-11, Judge Moore declared that he will file an appeal in federal court. 10 More details.
bullet2002-DEC-15: AL: More information on granite monument: About 350 supporters of Justice Moore rallied in front of the state capitol building to demand that the Ten Commandments remain. More details.

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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: 1995-1996
bulletThe Istook Constitutional Amendment: 1997-1999
bulletPrayer in the public schools

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Continue with events from the year 2003

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References:

  1. "Supreme Court ducks review of Ten Commandments Case: Proposed Indy State monument unconstitutional," AANEWS, 2002-FEB-26.
  2. Chrles MiVille, "Experts Eye Chances of Commandments Cases," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/
  3. Joseph Slobodzian & Jonathan Gelb, "Judge orders removal of Ten Commandments plaque from courthouse," The Philadelphia Inquirer, 2002-MAR-6, at: http://www.philly.com/mld/
  4. "Judge Orders Ten Commandments Plaque Covered: Chester County Wants To Wait For Appeal," WCAU-TV, at: http://www.nbc10.com/news/1387078/detail.html
  5. Steve Miller, "Monument battle heats up," Frederick News-Post, 2002-MAY-24, at: http://www.fredericknewspost.com/
  6. "Commandments Poster Barred in Court," Associated Press, 2002-JUN-12, at: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?
  7. "American Religious Identification Survey: Key Findings," by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, at: http://www.gc.cuny.edu/studies/
  8. "Circuit court rules for 'Aphorisms' as squabbles over religious sloganeering, commandments continue," AANews, 2002-AUG-1.
  9. Peter Walker, "Arguments in monument case heard," The Daily Texan, 2002-JUL-30, at: http://www.dailytexanonline.com/
  10. "Moore files appeal notice on order to remove Commandments monument," AANews, 2002-NOV-11
  11. "Moore refused commandments order, says court violates 'Justice based on God': Atheists, Separationists Square-Off With Justice's Supporters At Rally,"
    AANews, 2002-DEC-20.
  12. Neil Relyea, "10 Commandments Displays To Be Removed," WCPO-TV, 2003-JUN-8, at: http://wcpo.com/news/2003/

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Site navigation: Home page > Religious LawsTen Commandments > here

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Copyright 2002 to 2004 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-FEB-27
Latest update: 2004-AUG-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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