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US News - Thou Shalt Defy the Court - Mister Thorne

Archaic English renderings of ancient, Jewish laws: they're all the rage, in some quarters. Efforts to post them in public buildings, especially public-school classrooms: they're very fashionable these days, in some quarters.

Take, for instance, Alabama. On 11 March, Alabama's House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing a change to the state constitution. The change would allow the display of the Ten Commandments on all state property, including public schools. The bill was passed 89 to 0. If passed by the state senate, a referendum would be put to the voters in 2004. Another house bill would require the Ten Commandments to be posted in every public school. This all comes after a federal judge ordered the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court to remove a large, granite monument engraved with the Ten Commandments that he snuck into the state judicial building in the middle of the night. (See Religion in the News: misterthorne.org November 2002 for the story.)

Or consider Elkhart county in Indiana. County commissioners there approved the display of the Ten Commandments in the County Office Building. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union suggested a lawsuit would be the result. Then a group of citizens said they would pay to defend the commissioners if the ICLU acted. Last year, the ICLU won a suit against the city of Elkhart, which had placed a monument bearing the Ten Commandments in front of city hall. The granite monument was removed last year after it was ruled unconstitutional.

Or consider Rutherford county in Tennessee. The county commission posted the Ten Commandments in the county courthouse last April. The ACLU of Tennessee filed suit and, last June, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering their removal. But on 5 March, the judge stayed his ruling. Why? Because of Liberty Counsel. The religious civil liberties group is representing the county pro bono. It argued that their removal should await a decision by a higher court in a very similar case in Kentucky. There, three counties have appealed a federal court ruling that they remove the Ten Commandments from public buildings.

Or consider Rhea county in Tennessee, site of the famed Scopes trial. Last year, a federal judge ordered the Ten Commandments removed from public buildings in neighboring Hamilton County. The order comes from a suit brought by the ACLU of Tennessee. After losing the suit, the county removed three plaques bearing the Ten Commandments from public buildings. To pay its legal costs, it sold them at auction.

One of the plaques went to June Griffin, a citizen of Rhea county. After learning that hers was the winning bid, Griffin exclaimed, "Praise God. Praise God." She said her plaque would be posted in a public building in Rhea county. And she insisted that the county has the right to post the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Aware of the ACLU's track record of success in the courts, she warned against any further legal action to rid the public of displays of ancient laws. "We will defend them, but it won't be with lawyers," she said. On 21 March, Griffin appeared at a meeting of county commissioners. The commission expected her to bring the plaque to the meeting. Instead, she brought a framed 1040 tax form and said she had posted the plaque in an undisclosed public building. The commissioners declined her invite to play Hide and Seek.