Religious Liberty on the Docket

ACLU of Ohio v. Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board

This case falls into the legal category of:

Case Dates:
Wednesday, 17 April, 1996 - Friday, 23 March, 2001
Facts:

In 1996, then-Governor George Voinovich proposed to the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board that “With God All Things Are Possible” be inscribed above the main entrance of the Ohio Statehouse. The biblical passage, quoted from Matthew 19:26, had been designated the State of Ohio motto in 1959. The Board agreed to engrave the state seal and motto on a granite plaza at the west entrance to the Statehouse.

In 1997, an ACLU of Ohio team of attorneys including Tom Buckley, Mark Cohn, Susan Gellman, David Goldberger, Scott Greenwood, and Lou Jacobs filed a motion in U.S. District Court arguing that such a display would be unconstitutional as a governmental endorsement of religion. They argued that, when viewed in its biblical context, the phrase referenced a uniquely Christian concept of salvation.

The district court judge ruled that the motto was permissible, as it was generic reference to God and did not endorse any particular religion, and because there was a historical acceptance of the motto. Following the ruling, the motto was installed on the plaza.

The ACLU appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Court. In April 2000, a divided panel of judges declared the motto to be unconstitutional. Upon en banc review in 2011, however, the full Sixth Circuit ruled the motto to be constitutional, holding that a mere invocation of a deist divinity did not rise to the level of an Establishment Clause violation.

Read the district court decision:
Am. Civ. Liberties Union of Ohio, et al.v. Capitol Square Review Board, et al., 20 F.Supp.2d 1176 (S.D. Ohio 1998).

Read the Sixth Circuit three-judge panel decision:
Am. Civ. Liberties Union of Ohio, et al.v. Capitol Square Review Board, et al., 210 F.3d 703 (6th Cir. 2000).

Read the Sixth Circuit en banc decision:
Am. Civ. Liberties Union of Ohio, et al. v. Capitol Square Review Board, et al., 243 F.3d. 289 (6th Cir. 2001) (rehearing en banc).