Acting on Behalf of Concerned Residents and Clergy, ACLU of TN Challenges Posting of Ten Commandments in County Buildings

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
January 29, 2002 12:00 am

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NASHVILLE, TN–Acting on behalf of a coalition of clergy and concerned residents, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today filed a lawsuit challenging the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings in Hamilton County.

“”The posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings is divisive to religious diversity,” said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “The role of government is to ensure that individuals have the freedom to choose whether or not they want to adhere to a particular religious faith. However, when government promotes religion, that right to religious freedom is jeopardized.”

In the lawsuit, the ACLU argues that the posting of the Ten Commandments violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government from promoting or supporting religious doctrine. The postings are in the Hamilton County Juvenile Court Building, the Hamilton County Chattanooga Courts Building, and the Hamilton County Courthouse.

The ACLU is asking the court to order the removal of the three Ten Commandments displays in order to protect religious freedom for all Hamilton County residents.

“I believe firmly in the moral lessons that we have learned from the Ten Commandments,” said local resident and ACLU client Robert Siskin. “However, when the government posts a religious document such as the Ten Commandments, it gives preference to one religious belief over another and threatens religious liberty. This country was founded by people who came seeking religious liberty. Religious liberty means having the right to select the religion you prefer or no religion at all.”

Reverend Roland Johnson, Jr., another ACLU client in the case, added, “It is a dangerous thing when politicians attempt to co-opt religion for their own selfish agenda.”

Other ACLU clients include Reverend John W. Mingus, Sr., Rabbi Philip Posner, Reverend Melanie Morel Sullivan, Rabbi Josef Davidson, Reverend Roland Johnson, Jr. and concerned residents Tom and Nancy Bibler, Brad Guagnini, William David Jones, Robert and Priscilla Siskin, and Tracy and Donna Knauss. The ACLU is also a plaintiff on behalf of its members in Hamilton County.

Hugh Hamilton of Chattanooga and Susan Kay of Nashville are acting as ACLU cooperating attorneys in the case.

The ACLU brought the lawsuit at the request of local clergy and concerned residents, Weinberg explained, to ensure that individuals have the right to decide for themselves whether to practice a particular religious faith or to post the Ten Commandments in their homes or in their businesses.

“Were the government to prohibit the posting of the Ten Commandments in private homes or businesses, the ACLU would fight to protect peoples’ right to promote their religious beliefs and practice their religious faiths. That is what we are here for,” she said.

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