That Ten Commandments Statue Isn’t Going Anywhere Fast

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Written By admin at Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

A five-foot-tall statue of the Ten Commandments at the entrance of a Florida county courthouse will remain there for the foreseeable future.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Wednesday delivered a blow to a 2007 lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that seeks the removal of the statue. The ACLU, which represents a man identified in court papers only as John Doe, says the granite statue outside the Dixie County courthouse violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

A lower court agreed and ordered the statue removed in July of last year. The 11th Circuit, however, ruled that U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul failed to consider conflicting evidence that bears on whether the ACLU’s client has standing to sue.

In a deposition, he testified that the statue was one of several reasons he decided not to buy property in the county. But an affidavit filed with the court later stated that the monument alone was the reason he opted not to buy. Judge Paul relied only on the latter, the 11th Circuit said.

“Ignoring that deposition testimony was improper; the district court lacked the power to make a credibility determination absent a prior evidentiary hearing,” wrote Judge Charles Wilson.

The court sent the case back down to Judge Paul’s court for a hearing on the issue of standing.

Judge James Larry Edmondson, who dissented in part from the majority opinion, said that the ACLU had already failed to show standing and that he would have dismissed the lawsuit.

The Supreme Court in 2005 held that public displays of the commandments are not inherently unconstitutional but can be if they include content viewed as endorsing religion. The Dixie County monument includes the message, “Love God and Keep His Commandments.”

Dixie County Attorney Jennifer Ellison didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, had this to say in an email:

Religious freedom is alive and well in this country specifically because government can’t tell us what to believe and cannot favor one religion over another. We look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate that the ACLU has standing to challenge the county’s unconstitutional placement of the monument, and once our standing to do so has been established, we look forward to seeing religious liberty in Dixie County protected by having the monument removed.

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