Dixie County officials have decided to appeal a Florida federal judge’s order to remove a religious monument displaying the Ten Commandments in front of the county’s courthouse.
Defending the county’s policy, which allows private displays of law and history, the Dixie County filed a notice on July 26 at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to The Associated Press, after voting 5-0 to appeal and seek a stay, or a court order halting the judge’s ruling.
The appeal comes as a response to Senior District Judge Maurice Paul’s July 15 order, which ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
The Florida ACLU found that the five-foot monument, which includes a message that reads “LOVE GOD AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS,” violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and was an “unconstitutional endorsement of religion by Dixie County, Florida,” as noted in the motion.
They filed a lawsuit against the county only a few months after the display was resurrected in front of the courthouse in 2007, which was paid for by local businessman Joe H. Anderson, who had also paid for the same monument in Gilchrist County.
Anderson expressed as quoted by the Gilchrist County Journal, “The Ten Commandments are a very important part of this country’s founding history and are important to the future of this country.”
Dixie County officials maintained that the monument was owned and controlled by a private citizen, and therefore protected as private speech under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
Two plaques were added to the back of the monument clarifying their position after motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied, according to a statement by the ACLU.
One read, “PLACED OWNED AND MAINTAINED BY JOE ANDERSON” while the other stated, “The items placed in this forum do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners and are not sponsored or endorsed by the Board.”
Regardless, Judge Paul ruled to have the monument removed saying, “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. As such, the Court finds that the monument displaying the Ten Commandments is government speech and must comport with the Establishment Clause.”
Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLUFL, said in an official statement, “Removing the monument is the right thing to do. It is not the business of government to promote religious messages about monotheism, idolatry, taking the Lord’s name in vain or honoring the Sabbath.”
“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.”
But county residents are fighting back and claiming that the monument is already at its appropriate place.
“The people here enjoy it. We should have that freedom, but they’re taking our freedom away daily,” Donald Eady, a resident shared with AP. “There will be people standing around it to protect it when they come to remove it.”
“There’s nobody in that county who wants that monument moved,” Liberty Counsel attorney Mathew Staver told AP.
County manager Mike Cassidy also agreed, stating, “We have not had one negative comment from the community. No one in this county has come forward and said, ‘This should be removed.’ It has been totally unanimous.”
The officials are still seeking word on the status of the appeal.
Similar disputes over religious symbols and monuments displayed on public buildings, especially the posting of the Ten Commandments, have taken place in other states, including Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and Virginia.
While some contend that the removal of the public displays is a violation of religious freedom, others see it as a necessary means to avoid any government establishment of one religion.