Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Ten Commandments Display Upheld by Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals

Read the opinion here (pdf).

Ten Commandments Display Upheld by Appeals Court

Display is identical to the one argued before the Supreme Court earlier this year

Handing the ACLU a significant defeat, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held today that a display of the Ten Commandments together with other historical documents in Mercer County, Kentucky, is constitutional. Liberty Counsel represents Mercer County. Liberty Counsel also represented Elkhart County, Indiana, in which the Seventh Circuit earlier this year upheld an identical Ten Commandments display. Liberty Counsel also represented two Kentucky counties, McCreary and
Pulaski, before the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year involving the same display.

This case began when the ACLU sued Mercer County for its “Foundations of American Law and Government” display in the county courthouse that contained the Ten Commandments. The display included the Ten Commandments, the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Charta, the Star Spangled Banner, the National Motto, the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, the Bill of Rights to the U. S. Constitution, and a picture of Lady Justice.

Today the Sixth Circuit adopted the reasoning of the Seventh Circuit in Books v. Elkhart County, a Liberty Counsel case where the Seventh Circuit upheld an identical display to that in Mercer County. The Sixth Circuit stated, “Our concern is that of the reasonable person. And the ACLU, an organization whose mission is ‘to ensure that … the government [is kept] out of the religion business,’ does not embody the reasonable person.” The Court’s opinion also rejected the ACLU’s “repeated reference to ‘the separation of church and state.’ This extra-constitutional construct has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state.”

Today’s decision begins to turn the tide against the ACLU, which has been on a search and destroy mission to remove all vestiges of our religious history from public view. Whether the ACLU likes it or not, history is crystal clear that each one of the Ten Commandments played an important role in the founding of our system of law and government. Federal courts are beginning to rightfully reject extreme notions of "separation of church and state." It's about time that courts begin interpreting the Constitution consistent with its original purpose. With the changing of personnel at the U.S. Supreme Court, the trend toward a more historical approach to the First Amendment is well underway. This case should be used as a model for other counties wishing to display religious documents and symbols, including the Ten Commandments. It’s absurd to think that displaying the Ten Commandments is unconstitutional. The Ten Commandments is a universally recognized symbol of law. Our laws, and our notions of right and wrong, have been shaped by the Decalogue.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Florida Cities Agree to Allow Nativity Scene Following Lawsuit

After Liberty Counsel filed a federal lawsuit against two Florida cities over a banned private display of a nativity scene on public property, this afternoon both cities agreed to permit the display. A hearing in federal court was scheduled for 10:30 tomorrow on an emergency basis to hear arguments on the suit. That hearing will now be canceled. The nativity will now be displayed from December 12 to December 31, 2005. The lawsuit was filed by Liberty Counsel on behalf of Ken Koenig against Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach, situated near Jacksonville.

At the point where the towns of Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach join each other is a shared Town Center Park ("Park"). Both towns exercise joint control over the Park. In the Park is a forum that contains a 25-foot-tall Christmas tree that was lit on December 3 during a "Tree Lighting and Holiday Celebration." Both towns have approved an application by Cahabad@the Beaches to erect a large Menorah in the park.

When Mr. Koenig requested to display a private nativity scene, measuring a mere 40 inches tall, his request was denied by both towns. The towns have taken the position that a Christmas tree and a Menorah are secular symbols while the nativity scene is religious, and both towns argue that religious symbols are not a permitted display of the holiday season.

Prior to filing suit, Atlantic Beach denied Mr. Koenig's application in writing. Neptune Beach first said that permission from both cities was required. Then legal representatives for both cities were quoted in the media that both cities denied the request. A letter from Neptune Beach's City Attorney was then sent to Mr. Koenig confirming the denial. After the suit was filed December 6, Tuesday, the court set an emergency hearing for tomorrow. Within the past hour both cities have now reversed their positions and will now permit the nativity scene.

To exclude a private nativity scene from an open forum where a Christmas tree and a Menorah are displayed is a clear violation of the First Amendment. Excluding the nativity scene from a forum that includes a Christmas tree and a Menorah constitutes classic viewpoint-based discrimination, which the Constitution forbids. We are pleased that the nativity scene will now be displayed. Celebrating Christmas is constitutional.

Liberty Counsel launched its Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign to first educate that Christmas is constitutional, but to litigate when governments censor Christmas and blatantly violate the Constitution. Liberty Counsel has posted a legal memo at LC.org which sets forth the law regarding Christmas.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Liberty Counsel Files Suit Over Banned Nativity Scene

Today Liberty Counsel filed suit against two Florida cities after both banned a private display of a nativity scene on public property. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Ken Koenig against Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach, situated near Jacksonville.

At the point where the towns of Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach join each other is a shared Town Center Park ("Park"). Both towns exercise joint control over the Park. In the Park is a forum that contains a 25-foot-tall Christmas tree that was lit on December 3 during a "Tree Lighting and Holiday Celebration." Both towns have approved an application by Cahabad@the Beaches to erect a large Menorah in the park.

When Mr. Koenig requested to display a private nativity scene, measuring a mere 40 inches tall, his request was denied by both towns. The towns have taken the position that a Christmas tree and a Menorah are secular symbols while the nativity scene is religious, and both towns argue that religious symbols are not a permitted display of the holiday season.

Liberty Counsel's lawsuit was filed in federal court. The suit argues that the exclusion of the privately sponsored nativity scene from an open forum constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment. The suit requests the court to enter a temporary restraining order requiring the towns to permit the private display.

The Supreme Court has ruled that even government-sponsored displays of a nativity scene alongside a Christmas tree, or a Menorah alongside a Christmas tree, are constitutional. The constitutional right to display privately sponsored religious Christmas displays in an open forum is even clearer. Excluding them is unconstitutional.

To exclude a private nativity scene from an open forum where a Christmas tree and a Menorah are displayed is a clear violation of the First Amendment. While the towns justify their discrimination by contending that the Menorah is secular, the Supreme Court has recognized the Menorah as a religious symbol. By banning the nativity scene while permitting the Menorah, the towns have engaged in the worst kind of constitutional violation - preferring one religion over another. Sectarian preference is repugnant to the Constitution.

Liberty Counsel launched its Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign to first educate that Christmas is constitutional, but to litigate when governments censor Christmas and blatantly violate the Constitution. Liberty Counsel has posted a legal memo at LC.org which sets forth the law regarding Christmas.