ACLU Sues Over 10 Commandments BY Roxanne Escobales02/07/07
WMNF Drive-Time News Friday
A six-ton granite engraving of the Ten Commandments on the steps of the Dixie County Courthouse has the ACLU saying: “Thou shalt not mix religion with government.” In a telephone press conference, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida told how late last night it filed a lawsuit on behalf of its members against Dixie County for the display to be taken down.
Howard Simon is the executive director of the ACLU of Florida.
Legally, the ACLU claims the display violates the US and state constitution, specifically two clauses in the First Amendment.
Becky Steele is the director of the ACLU of Florida’s Religious Freedom Project.
The Dixie County Courthouse in Cross City houses a lot of different essential government offices, including the tax assessor and the sheriff. The display is over five feet tall. Underneath the 10 Commandments, reads: “Love God And Keep His Commandments.” Episcopalian priest and Florida International University dean Dr Lesley Northup, who advises the ACLU on religious matters, describes this as an “11th Commandment.”
A local businessman donated the 20-thousand dollar monument to the commission, which discussed the issue in a meeting a little over a year ago. Transcripts of that meeting record the county attorney, Lindsay Lander, saying he would defend any lawsuits against the display pro bono. He did not return phone calls from WMNF for comment. But a report in the St Petersburg Times from last month quotes the Dixie County Commission chairman James Valentine as saying about the engraving – quote – “It’s a great thing.”
The executive director of the South East Region of American Jewish Congress, Harriet Kurlander, disagrees.
The ACLU of Florida says many clear precedents for its case exist. One of the union’s attorneys, Glenn Katon, cites two similar cases from Texas and Kentucky ruled on by the US Supreme Court, as well as the Ron Moore case from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal, which encompasses Florida. In 2003, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice was ordered to remove a 10 Commandments display he erected within the courthouse. He refused and was unseated by his colleagues. Katon says this sets an unambiguous precedent.
ACT: “this display”
In today’s press conference another ACLU attorney said he hoped Governor Charlie Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum would step in and settle the matter before the litigation went further. A spokeswoman for the attorney general said he was not considering taking any action at this time.