The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation has prevailed in a federal lawsuit against a state court judge who posted a copy of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. In an opinion issued late yesterday, June 11, 2002, U.S. District Judge Kathleen O’Malley declared the display unconstitutional, and order it to be removed at once.
In July 2000, Richland County Common Pleas Judge James DeWeese designed and hung a poster bearing the Ten Commandments in his Mansfield courtroom.
According to testimony in the case decided yesterday, he did so in part to symbolize the supremacy of divine law over human affairs, and to provide civic groups with what he considered an example of moral absolutes.
The ACLU filed suit on behalf of its members in March 2001, asserting that the display of so obviously religious a text in a public building violated the constitutional guarantee of church state separation found in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Yesterday, Judge O’Malley agreed, and in a thoughtful, thirty-eight page opinion, held that the display both had a religious purpose, and was likely to be perceived as such by the general public.
The United States Supreme Court held in 1980 that the Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text to Christians and Jews, and that a state law requiring them to be posted in public schools violated the Establishment Clause. Since then, a number of lower federal courts have required local governments to remove displays involving the commandments from, courthouse lobbies and lawns, and in one similar case, from a courtroom in Alabama.
The decision issued yesterday sharply rejected arguments by Judge DeWeese asserting that the display of the Commandments was an internal state-court matter with which the federal courts could not or should not concern themselves. “That is significant,” said Raymond Vasvari, Legal Director for the ACLU of Ohio, who litigated the case in federal court. “The decision makes clear that church state separation must be observed, above all, in the courtrooms where judges are sworn to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution.”