California high court won’t review Ten Commandments case

Friday, December 3, 1999

SAN FRANCISCO — A Southern California man who wanted to post the Ten
Commandments on a fence at a school baseball field has had his appeal turned
away by the state Supreme Court.


Over the dissents of Justices Joyce Kennard and Janice Rogers Brown, the
court on Dec. 1 denied review of a state appeals court ruling upholding the
Downey Unified School District’s refusal to display the sign.


The case started in 1995, when Downey High School sought ads to pay for new
uniforms. Edward DiLoreto, chief executive of a local engineering firm, paid
$400 and had the Ten Commandments written on a sign along with an invitation to
“meditate on these principles to live by.”


The school refused to display the sign. After obtaining an opinion from
then-Attorney General Dan Lungren that the posting would be legal, the school
district instead removed all ads from the fence in 1996 and ended the
fund-raiser.


DiLoreto, represented by the conservative Individual Rights Foundation, sued
the district, claiming it violated his rights to free speech and freedom of
religion. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas McKnew ruled against him and
was upheld Aug. 17 by California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal.


The three-judge panel of the 2nd District court said the school district’s
refusal was a reasonable action to avoid expensive lawsuits.


The judges offered different reasons for their decision. One said the ad
would have amounted to the school endorsing a religious message. Another justice
disagreed with that reason, but said the district acted legally. The third
justice said the ballfield “was not a public forum for religious
proselytizing.”


Attorney Patrick Manshardt of the Individual Rights Foundation said in his
appeal to the state Supreme Court that the split decision was confused. He said
the California Supreme Court should grant a hearing in order to clear up that
confusion.


Meanwhile, early last month, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled
in favor of the school district’s actions in DiLoreto’s federal lawsuit. The
court in DiLoreto v. Downey Unified School District concluded that the
baseball field was not a public forum open to expression and that school
officials acted constitutionally by refusing to display the religious
codes.