FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RINGGOLD, GA-- Rejecting city officials' assertion that a religious display in city hall was meant to endorse patriotism and not religion, a federal court today issued a final order in a lawsuit which settles the dispute and orders the city to refrain from erecting future religious displays.
"Even though city officials said no one disagreed with the display, our clients -- and others folks who contacted us -- said they felt that the religious display sent the wrong message," said Gerry Weber, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. "Let's hope that this case leads to greater respect for the diversity of views and beliefs of the Ringgold community."
Last September, officials in Ringgold -- a city of 51,000 located west of Atlanta -- voted to post the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer and an empty frame (supposedly to represent those of no faith) in the city hall.
Two local residents objected to the display, saying that it sends a message to all who enter the building that the government encourages and endorses the practice of religion in general and Judeo-Christianity in particular. Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, they filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia seeking its removal. City officials agreed to take down the items rather than go to court.
"The Constitution gives government no authority to meddle in religious matters," said the Reverend Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United. "The Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer belong in houses of worship, not the halls of government. Communities that insist on violating the Constitution will be sued and will end up wasting taxpayer dollars trying to defend cases they cannot win."
Under the terms of the settlement, Ringgold officials removed the display on August 13, 2002 and have agreed to refrain from displaying the religious symbols in the future. They will also pay attorneys' fees incurred by the ACLU and Americans United.
ACLU Brief in Odom v. City of Ringgold
The consent order of dismissal in Odom v. City of Ringgold