Dixie County Ten Commandments to Go; Appeal Decision Awaited

Dixie County has been asked to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the front of its courthouse by August 14, but county commissioners have yet to decide whether to appeal the order by a federal judge.

Dixie County Attorney Jennifer Ellison said county commissioners would probably take their time deciding if they would appeal the ruling to remove the Ten Commandments monument which was erected in front of the county courthouse in Cross City in 2006, according to The Associated Press.

Dixie County commissioners are scheduled to have two meetings before the August 14 deadline, on Thursday and on August 4, according to the county website.

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Marvin Hunt, a member of the Dixie County Commission who voted in favor of allowing the monument, said he was “displeased with the court system.” “At this time, I can’t really make a comment until we have a meeting and speak with the attorney,” The Gainesville Sun quoted him as saying.

Federal Senior District Judge Maurice Paul’s July 15 order in response to a lawsuit filed by the legislative lobby group Florida American Civil Liberties Union (ACLUFL) in 2007 has outraged some citizens who argue that the five-foot, six-ton granite monument represents the heritage of America.

“If you don’t like it, don’t look at it. Go in the back door,” a resident, Richard Elton, was quoted as saying by WOKV radio station in Jacksonville, Fla. Other citizens said representations of America’s heritage were important to the county’s history and future and they had never heard anyone say they were offended by the monument’s location or message, the station added.

However, ACLUFL applauded the court’s verdict in a statement Monday. “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,” Executive Director Howard Simon said.

Simon argued that the official government display of a religious monument was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “Courts have held that the ‘establishment’ portion of the First Amendment includes official sponsorship or promotion of religion including, as in this case, what a ‘reasonable observer’ may conclude about government sponsorship of religious views based on a monument in a public space.”

Dixie County argued in the court that the monument was not owned or controlled by the county but by a private citizen, Joe Anderson, Jr., who paid for, placed and maintained the monument, which was a private expression of free speech. But the court ruled it still violated the separation of church and state.

After the lawsuit was filed in 2007, a plaque was added to the back of the monument which reads, “Placed, Owned and Maintained by Joe Anderson, Jr.” Later, the county had to place another sign, saying, “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.”

“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,” Judge Paul ruled. “As such, the Court finds that the monument displaying the Ten Commandments is government speech and must comport with the Establishment Clause.”

Simon said since it was the only monument on the steps of the courthouse and main government building in Dixie County, any reasonable observer would “conclude the Ten Commandments – and the religious message it conveys – are representing the wishes and views of the County itself.” Removing the monument was “the right thing to do,” he added. “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.”

However, Catholic Online saw the decision as “an example of governmental hostility toward religious faith and religious symbols in the public square.” “The effort to scrub the public square of such religious expression is a threat to religious freedom, runs contrary to our founding documents, and is unfaithful to our history as a free people,” it said Tuesday.

Thomas F. Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, recently said at a seminar on religious freedom in Princeton that there was a presumption in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that religion is good for America. The first 16 words of the Bill of Rights are, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” he reminded the participants at the seminar hosted by the Witherspoon Institute, July 5-9.

“Why would anybody put that as the first 16 words of their Bill of Rights?” Farr asked, as quoted by The Media Project. “There is only one possible explanation: they valued religion, not that they wanted religion out of the public square. They wanted religious people, religious ideas, religious actors involved.”

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