Appeals Court Strikes Down Ohio Judge's Ten Commandments Display

A Ten Commandments display in an Ohio courtroom violates the Constitution, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court decision and ruled that the display is an explicit endorsement of religion, and thus unconstitutional.

The case dates back to 2000, when James DeWeese, a judge of the Richland County Court of Common Pleas, hung two posters – one of the Bill of Rights and the other of the Ten Commandment – in his courtroom.

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation filed a lawsuit and won.

In 2006, DeWeese hung a second poster containing the Ten Commandments but entitled "Philosophies of Law in Conflict." The poster listed the commandments as "moral absolutes" which were compared to a list of "moral relatives" that included such statements as "the universe is self-existent and not created," "ethics depend on the person and the situation" and "there is no absolute truth."

The poster also contained some editorial commentary by DeWeese.

"I join the Founders in personally acknowledging the importance of Almighty God's fixed moral standards for restoring the moral fabric of this nation," part of the commentary stated.

The ACLU filed a new suit in 2008 challenging the display.

The appeals court rejected DeWeese's argument that the poster constitutes protected speech.

"DeWeese's posters are situated in a courtroom, a public space, and were placed on the wall by a sitting judge charged with the decoration of that space while in office and presiding in the same courtroom. As such, we reject DeWeese's contention that the display constitutes private religious expression protected by the Free Speech Clause, falling beyond the bounds of Establishment Clause scrutiny," wrote Judge Eric L. Clay in the court opinion.

DeWeese was represented by the American Center for Law and Justice.

The ACLJ contended, "Neither DeWeese's discussion of the contrast between legal philosophies based on moral absolutes as opposed to moral relativism, nor his use of the Decalogue as a means to illustrate that contrast bespeak a constitutionally problematic religious purpose.

"Moreover, a reasonable observer of the poster would view the poster as a statement about legal philosophy, morality, and ethics, not theology or religion."

But the three-judge panel rejected what they called attempts by DeWeese "to veil his religious purpose by casting his religious advocacy in philosophical terms."

"Replacing the word religion with the word philosophy does not mask the religious nature of Defendant's purpose," stated Clay. The poster "sets forth overt religious messages and religious endorsements."

The ACLJ has called the lawsuit the latest episode in ACLU's "crusade" to purge the U.S. of its Judeo-Christian roots.

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