January 27, 2010
An Ohio judge should remove a poster displaying the Ten Commandments from his courtroom, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told a federal appeals court.
Americans United has filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that Richland County Common Pleas Judge James DeWeese’s poster is an unconstitutional governmental endorsement of religion. A lower court has already held that this display shows “a preference for Judeo-Christian faiths” and does not belong in a courtroom.
The poster, designed by DeWeese, features the Commandments alongside “humanist precepts.” Below the text is a statement that says DeWeese believes in moral absolutes such as the Commandments rather than the moral relativism of the Humanist Manifesto.
Although the poster references DeWeese’s acknowledgment of “the importance of Almighty God’s fixed moral standards,” he claims that his display is not religious but merely an illustration of legal or philosophical “theory.”
“Who is Judge DeWeese kidding?” asked the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “It’s obvious that he is using his courtroom to advance his personal religious viewpoint. That’s wrong, and the appeals court should say so.”
Lynn noted that the judge has been on something of a crusade against church-state separation. Before erecting this particular poster, DeWeese had already been ordered by another court to remove a Decalogue display from his courtroom.
Americans United, joined by The Interfaith Alliance, the Anti-Defamation League, the Hindu American Foundation and the Union for Reform Judaism, filed the brief in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The case against the judge’s religious display was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on behalf of its member, Bernard Davis. Judge DeWeese is being represented by TV preacher Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice.
The AU brief asserts that DeWeese’s “attempt to characterize his religious display as legal or philosophical ‘theory’ is one in a long line of efforts to dress religious doctrine in secular clothing.”
AU reminds the court that this argument has failed in a similar case before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2003, the court demanded that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore remove a Ten Commandments monument outside the Alabama State Judicial Building. Moore, who refused to take down the 2.5-ton monument, was soon removed from the state supreme court.
The brief in ACLU of Ohio v. DeWeese, was drafted by AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and AU Madison Fellow Taryn Wilgus Null with assistance from AU Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.