(Photo: ACLU of Florida)
An appeals court ruled in favor of a Florida county courthouse's Ten Commandments display, sending the case back down to a lower court that had ruled against the display last year.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the suit by the American Civil Liberties Union against Dixie County over its five-foot tall Decalogue display lacked legal standing.
The ACLU had sued on behalf of an individual named in court documents as "John Doe," who lived in North Carolina and had claimed that the presence of the Ten Commandments had inhibited him from purchasing land in Dixie County.
"Therefore, it is uncertain whether foregoing his real estate search constitutes an 'injury' of the type that satisfies standing requirements and whether the monument was the real cause of that alleged 'injury.' The existence of alternative or additional reasons for Doe's abandonment of his search for property in the County could render Doe's injury speculative-more 'hypothetical' than 'actual,'" wrote the Eleventh Circuit.
"Because this conflicting evidence must be resolved in order to determine whether Doe has standing, we vacate the district court's grant of summary judgment on the merits and remand to the district court to hold an evidentiary hearing and determine what testimony to credit."
In 2006, the five-foot tall Ten Commandments statue was privately donated to the Dixie County courthouse and put on display prominently on its steps. The following year, the ACLU of Florida filed suit on behalf of an individual known as "John Doe." Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the plaintiffs. In July 2011, Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul ruled in favor of the ACLU of Florida and Doe and the display was removed.
Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United, told The Christian Post that he was disappointed at the Eleventh Circuit's decision to send the case back to the lower court.
"The plaintiff here testified that Dixie County's display of the religious monument made him feel so unwelcome in the County that he was dissuaded from purchasing property there," said Luchenitser.
"This testimony should have been enough to support a court ruling that the plaintiff was injured and that his constitutional rights were violated."
Luchenitser said that the decision "does not resolve this case" and that he was "hopeful" the lower court would effectively deal with the issues the Eleventh Circuit found.
"We are hopeful that the district court, after it hears further evidence, will conclude that the plaintiff was indeed injured and that it will reinstate its original ruling requiring removal of the religious display," said Luchenitser.
Members of the Liberty Counsel, which represented Dixie County in court, released statements in response to the decision.
"The ACLU has a habit of rolling into town and suing over the slightest claimed offense. The appeals court quite properly called their hand in this case and rightly questioned whether Mr. Doe has suffered any legitimate injury at all," said LC Chairman Mathew Staver.
"The citizens of Dixie County won today. To them and to people across America, the Ten Commandments has become a symbol of the rule of law, not an establishment of religion," said LC Attorney Horatio Mihet.