ACLU Declares 10 Commandments Case Successful; Dismisses Federal Lawsuit Against City of Frederick

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
December 3, 2002 12:00 am

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BALTIMORE-Declaring that its court challenge to a Ten Commandments monument successfully established the principle that religious monuments may not be located on government property, the ACLU of Maryland today dismissed its suit against the City and County of Frederick.

“The United States Constitution’s Establishment Clause prohibits the location of religious monuments on governmental property,” said Stuart H. Newberger, an establishment clause expert at the Washington law firm of Crowell & Moring LLP. “The City of Frederick has now acknowledged that principle.”

The controversy began in April 2002 when Blake Trettien, who was then a high school senior, asked the monument be removed from the public park because its display was unconstitutional. When Frederick refused to act, Trettien called on the ACLU.

After reviewing the history of the park and monument, the ACLU suggested constitutionally acceptable alternatives that included turning ownership of either the monument or the park over to a private entity. The Frederick County and City governments, however, refused. The ACLU of Maryland then filed suit in United States District Court in Baltimore.

On November 20, the City of Frederick, which was found to be the sole owner of the property, voted to sell the monument and the land on which it stands to a private party. The buyer will be responsible for maintaining both the land and will not be required to keep the Ten Commandments monument on the site.

From the beginning, the ACLU noted that it was not trying to make Frederick a Ten Commandments-free zone. “But placement of a religious monument on governmental property sends a message of endorsement of particular religious faiths, and a message of exclusion to others,” said Dwight Sullivan of the ACLU. “It is not an appropriate governmental function to promote what is undeniably a sacred religious text to certain faiths.”

Mr. Newberger and David Haga both of the Washington, D.C. law firm, Crowell & Moring LLP are representing plaintiffs Blake Trettien and Francis Green in the pro bono case. The ACLU of Maryland was also named as an organizational plaintiff.

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