For the second time this week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation has prevailed in a federal suit challenging the display of the Ten Commandments at a public building. A decision handed down Tuesday, June 11, 2002, by United States Magistrate Judge Timothy Hogan, in Cincinnati, declared the display of the Ten Commandments outside four high schools in rural Adams County, in Southern Ohio, unconstitutional. Judge Hogan found that the display violated the First Amendment mandate of church-state separation, and ordered them to be removed.
On the same day, United States District Judge Kathleen O’Malley, in Cleveland, ordered a poster bearing the Ten Commandments removed from a common pleas courtroom in Mansfield. Both cases were brought by the ACLU, but were otherwise unrelated. The timing of the decisions was coincidental.
The Adams County case was complicated by the display of Anglo-American historical documents on stone slabs flanking the Commandments. Advocates for the Adams County Ministerial Association, which placed both the Commandments and the other documents, claimed that this made the Decalogue only a small (and religiously neutral) part of a larger display on legal history.
That position was roundly rejected by Tuesday’s opinion, in which the Court noted that the Ten Commandments originally stood alone, and that the other monuments were not added until after the ACLU sued in February 1999. Judge Hogan cited testimony from those involved in placing the later monuments which stated they were erected as “the best way to win the case.”
In 1980, the United States Supreme Court invalidated a Kentucky law which required the Commandments to be placed in public school classrooms. Finding the Commandments to be a sacred text to both Christians and Jews, the Court held that public schools could not teach students to venerate them without promoting religion, in violation of the First Amendment. Despite this, there have been repeated efforts throughout the Midwest in recent years to reintroduce the Commandments in public schools and other public buildings.
Tuesday’s decisions add to a growing list of ACLU victories in Kentucky, Indiana and now Ohio, rejecting efforts to place religious monuments in public buildings.
“We are very pleased, said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Raymond Vasvari, about the decisions: “In one short day, a big part of a calculated effort to undermine church state separation in Ohio has been stopped in its tracks. This is an important week for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience for all Ohioans.”