Defending the Right to Practice a Religion–or Not
Recent ACLU of Ohio cases highlight the organization’s commitment to both defending the right to practice religion and preventing the government from supporting religion. In State of Ohio v. Daley, the ACLU of Ohio defended John Daley, who had told state employees that God would punish them. Although Daley made clear that he was not threatening them, he was charged with menacing and other crimes, and was hospitalized and medicated against his will because of his “unorthodox” religious beliefs. After several months, the ACLU of Ohio secured his release.
In ACLU v. DeWeese, the ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit to prevent Richland County Common Pleas Court Judge James DeWeese from displaying a poster supporting the Ten Commandments over “Humanist Precepts.” The ACLU of Ohio sued and prevailed in federal court, asserting that the poster was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. In February 2011, a panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with the lower court’s ruling. In October 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Judge DeWeese’s appeal, effectively upholding the decision that his poster is unconstitutional. Following the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal, the ACLU of Ohio asked for, and was granted attorney’s fees and costs. This marked the second time in a decade the federal courts have ruled Judge DeWeese’s courtroom posters were a violation of religious liberty. In 2002, the courts ruled Judge DeWeese remove a similar religious document from the courtroom wall.