Court Sides with ACLU in Religious Freedom Case

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
October 9, 2009 12:00 am

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Federal Court Orders Judge to Remove Display that Unfairly Promotes One Religion Over Others

MANSFIELD, OH- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio prevailed today in its lawsuit against Richland County Judge James DeWeese, who displayed religious documents his courtroom. Judge Patricia A. Gaughan of the Federal Court for the Northern District of Ohio ordered Judge DeWeese to remove the display as it unconstitutionally endorsed particular religious views over others. This marks the second time the courts have ordered Judge DeWeese to remove religious documents from his courtroom. In 2002, the ACLU won a lawsuit against him for posting the Ten Commandments on his courtroom wall.

“We are pleased the court saw through this transparent attempt to sidestep the Constitution. Even with a few minor alterations from his original 2002 display, it was clear that Judge DeWeese’s intentions to promote a particular religion remained the same” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link.

Judge DeWeese’s current display includes what he describes as “humanist principles” posted alongside the Ten Commandments. Below them is a statement saying he believes in moral absolutes such as the Ten Commandments rather than moral relatives such as the humanist precepts.

“Judges are held to the highest standard to remain neutral and fair, yet Judge DeWeese’s display sent a clear message that those who entered his courtroom would be judged based on his own particular religious views. Courts should hold people accountable based on our shared laws, not sectarian religious beliefs” added Link.

The ACLU’s previous 2002 victory against Judge DeWeese was upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court declined review. In May 2008, the ACLU of Ohio asked federal Judge Kathleen O’Malley to hold Judge DeWeese in contempt of court for his new courtroom display as a violation of her order. She declined to do so because the display was not a duplicate of the previous sign and included other text. However, she did not rule on whether the current sign was constitutional. Today’s ruling by Judge Gaughan establishes that even with different text, Judge DeWeese’s display is still unconstitutional.

Link concluded, “Hopefully, this will mark an end to Judge DeWeese’s obvious attempts to find a backdoor way around the Constitution. Now after various courts have recognized that “tweaking” the language will not mask the intent to endorse religion, it’s time for Judge DeWeese to stop clogging the courts with needless litigation and comply with the law.”

Read the Memorandum and Opinion and Order

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