May 15, 2000


ATLANTA -- After two years of attempting to reach a negotiated settlement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed suit today in federal court on behalf of three citizens, asking that Richmond County officials be ordered to stop using a seal which prominently depicts the Ten Commandments.

"When government intrudes into religion, government politicizes and demeans religion," said Gerry Weber, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia. "In cities and counties across this state, we have fought to defend the Ten Commandments' place as a religious document. Again, in Richmond County, we draw the line at separation of church and state."

The county seal depicts two tablets with rounded tops, displaying Roman numerals one through ten, with a sword in the background. The seal is affixed to such court documents as subpoenas, file records, deeds, and certificates of admission to the state bar. The county has stated in news articles that "[i]n all likelihood, it was meant to be the Ten Commandments."

The ACLU contends that the seal inextricably links religion and the governmental affairs of the county and therefore violates the separation of church and state. In Georgia and across the country, the ACLU has repeatedly won cases involving government displays of the Ten Commandments, including a 1996 case against Cobb County.

Commenting on the county's use of an image of the sacred text, Robert L. Tsai, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Georgia, said that it "sends a very clear message that adherents of certain faiths are insiders and full members of the polity, while nonbelievers are outsiders."

"There is no purpose for having the Ten Commandments on the seal other than to call upon observers to meditate upon and revere the religious code," he added. "All of this the Constitution forbids."

Stay Informed