Federal judge: Ten Commandments at Fla. courthouse must go

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Officials in a rural north Florida county must remove a granite monument of the Ten Commandments from the front of its courthouse because it violates the Constitution, a federal judge has ruled.

Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida in its lawsuit against Dixie County. He gave Dixie officials until Aug. 14 to remove the six-ton monument located in front of the courthouse in Cross City.

Paul’s ruling July 15 resulted from a 2007 lawsuit by the ACLU of Florida. The group argued that an official government display of a religious monument violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which bars the government from promoting religious messages. The county argued that a private citizen owns the monument.

“We hope that Dixie County officials will find a permanent place for it at a church or other house of worship, which is the appropriate place for religious monuments,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU’s Florida operation. “Removing the monument is the right thing to do.”

County officials did not return a call seeking comment yesterday. They had argued to Paul that the monument was built and paid for by Joe Anderson Jr. of Old Town, that it was placed there as a private expression of free speech and was not an official endorsement of religion.

But Paul said that “despite the actual ownership of the monument, the location and permanent nature of the display make it clear to all reasonable observers that Dixie County chooses to be associated with the message being conveyed. “

Cross City, located in the sparsely populated Big Bend region of the state, is about an hour drive west of Gainesville.

Anderson has also made a similar gift to neighboring Gilchrist County, where its commissioners voted in May to accept it.

“The Ten Commandments are a very important part of this country’s founding history and are important to the future of this county,” Anderson told the Gilchrist County commissioners. A phone number found for Anderson wasn’t working yesterday.

There have been other attempts to put up such monuments in Florida. Last November, Cape Coral Mayor John Sullivan asked the city attorney to investigate whether the Ten Commandments could be legally displayed at City Hall as a reminder for citizens to straighten up.

Cape Coral is in southwest Florida, adjacent to Fort Myers.

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