High Court Again Refuses to Review Ban on Government Endorsement of Ten Commandments

February 25, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON–For the second time in less than a year, the United States Supreme Court today refused to review a ban on the placement of Ten Commandments monuments on government property, a practice the American Civil Liberties Union has successfully challenged as an illegal entanglement of government with religion.

In today’s case, O’Bannon v. Indiana Civil Liberties Union, No. 01-966, the Justices denied Indiana’s request to review a federal appeals court ruling that a lower court was correct in preventing the governor’s planned placement of a 7-foot stone monument on the lawn of the Indiana Statehouse. Such placement of the Ten Commandments, reasoned the lower courts, would violate the Constitutional bar against promoting religion in general or favoring one religion over another.

The plaintiffs in this case, including local residents, a rabbi, and ministers, were represented by Kenneth J. Falk of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.

“This is the second time in less than a year that the Supreme Court has refused to review a case from Indiana which had held that the public display of the Ten Commandments on government property is unconstitutional,” Falk said. “I would hope that all government officials in the state now recognize that the law is settled and will stop dividing the community by trying to promote one religion above others.”

“We all have the right to believe what we wish, but government must be neutral when it comes to religion,” Falk added. “Posting a document holy to Christians and Jews in a place of prominence on public property violates that promise.”

The original order issued by the district court temporarily stopped the placement of the monument. In affirming the court’s order, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals noted, “We are hard-pressed to believe that a trial on the merits will support a different conclusion,” thus making it likely that the case will be concluded without a trial.

Courts around the country have issued similar rulings in challenges brought by the ACLU. Citing the “overwhelming religious nature” of a Ten Commandments monument placed in a city-owned park in Nebraska, a federal court last week ordered officials to remove the display. Also last week, a court in Tennessee ordered two postings of the Ten Commandments removed from a Marion County courtroom. Last summer, a federal court in Kentucky ordered the removal of Ten Commandments displays in schools and courthouses.

The ACLU has also filed Ten Commandments challenges in Ohio, West Virginia, Iowa, Montana, Illinois.

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