With a possible lawsuit hovering over the heads of the Hart County Board of Commissioners in South Carolina, the group voted Monday to remove a Ten Commandments display from the County Courthouse.
In a unanimous decision, the board formally voted to take down the framed copy of the Ten Commandments after receiving a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union last week. ACLU attorney Maggie Garrett asked for records from a meeting that took place last fall, when commissioners voted to post the commandments donated by a citizen.
While Garrett did not mention the threat of a lawsuit in the letter, the Hart County officials decided to avoid a costly legal battle and removed the Ten Commandments last Wednesday after an informal vote.
Michael Griffin, executive director of the Hartwell-based Ten Commandments-Georgia, expressed his disapproval of Mondays final decision in a statement sent via e-mail.
"Our community should be outraged that such an organization as the ACLU has this much influence and so few public officials who are willing to stand up to them," Griffin wrote, according to the Associated Press. "This organization has become so intimidating that a threat of a lawsuit is not even needed anymore."
Hart County Attorney Walter Gordon paralleled the case to the earlier Kentucky trials where the Supreme Court ruled that the displays promoted religion, thus violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment the separation of church and state.
At the meeting last fall, the Hart County board had decided not to neutralize the Ten Commandments display with other historical markers.
"The record clearly states from the podium we do not want to water the display down with other historical documents," said Gordon. "That was a critical misstep."
Gordon thus noted that the Kentucky decision applies to the Hart County case as well and that it would be a battle they would lose.
"The Supreme Court has spoken out against the display we have," he said.
A previous court ruling in July also removed the commandments copy from a courthouse in Barrow County, Ga. The ACLU filed suit against the religious display on behalf of a Georgia resident. The United States District Court Judge, William O'Kelley, forbid the county from posting similar religious displays on public property.