Courthouse to Place Church-State Separation Display Next to Decalogue

Johnson County of Tennessee settled a lawsuit with Americans United for Separation of Church and State over a county courthouse lobby display that included the Ten Commandments.

According to the settlement, announced on Thursday, a Johnson County resident can post a display on church-state separation in the lobby alongside the Decalogue.

Gregory Lipper of Americans United, the lead counsel for the plaintiff, told The Christian Post that the county was “improperly seeking to promote Christianity.”

“I think that the County understandably decided not to waste any more of its citizens' tax dollars attempting to defend the indefensible,” said Lipper.

“The revised public-forum policy, which is an important part of the settlement agreement, makes clear that the county may not reject displays based on disagreement with those displays' message. Once a government decides to create a genuine public forum, it's required to accept all viewpoints.”

In 2008, the Johnson County Commission created a “public forum” space in their county courthouse lobby for displays that would reflect the history of American law.

The commission unanimously approved a display that included the Ten Commandments and quotes from the Declaration of Independence, various founding fathers, and some Supreme Court decisions.

However, the commission rejected a display by county resident Ralph Stewart that included the statement, “The Ten Commandments Are Not the Foundation of American Law.”

The county was represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization that frequently takes up the case of Decalogue displays on public property.

Nathan Kellum, the ADF legal counsel who took the Johnson County case, did not return phone calls by press time.

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