For Second Time in a Decade, Federal Appeals Panel Says Judge Cannot Endorse Religion in Court

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
February 4, 2011 12:00 am

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Judge Should End Personal Crusade to Promote Beliefs

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CINCINNATI – On February 2, a three-judge panel for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed unanimously with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio that a religious display erected in a Richland County courtroom is unconstitutional. The ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit against Judge James DeWeese in October 2008 after he installed a poster on the wall of the county courtroom with the Ten Commandments, a set of “humanist precepts,” and a statement on them from DeWeese. In its lawsuit, the ACLU charged that the display was meant to unfairly promote DeWeese’s personal religious views using his position as a judge. The ACLU prevailed in a similar case against Judge DeWeese in 2002.

“After over a decade of defying the U.S. Constitution and orders from federal court, I sincerely hope Judge DeWeese ends his crusade to use the public courtroom wall to promote his private beliefs,” said ACLU of Ohio Volunteer Attorney Mike Honohan.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled previously against Judge DeWeese in 2002, finding that his display of the Ten Commandments on the courtroom wall was unconstitutional. In 2008, the ACLU filed a second lawsuit after DeWeese put up a new poster with minor modifications.

“As a public servant, Judge DeWeese should have abided by the courts’ decisions long ago. Instead, he has chosen to ignore the law and court order by making trivial modifications to a display that clearly violates the Constitution,” concluded Honohan. “I doubt Judge DeWeese would tolerate these types of trifles in his courtroom, and should hold himself to that standard as well.”

In his 2002 case, Judge DeWeese petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, but they declined. After yesterday’s decision, DeWeese could appeal to the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, but has not indicated his intentions.

“Richland County and Ohio have deeper issues than Judge DeWeese’s need to promote his personal beliefs in the courtroom. Taxpayers deserve better than to see their resources frittered away by a public official who attempts to manipulate the judicial system,” Honohan concluded.

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