The American Civil Liberties Union is deciding whether to challenge placement of a Ten Commandments monument in the lobby of a county administration building in Florida Thursday.
The Decalogue is in the lower left hand corner of one of the four sides of the monument, which has 18 other historical documents, the Tampa Tribune reported.
Florida county unveils monument bearing 10 Commandments (Courtesy Tampa Tribune)
The decision to design the monument that way – following advice of the Christian Law Association – was made before the controversy erupted last month over a 10 Commandments monument in Alabama’s judicial building. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore defied a judge’s order to remove the memorial, which prominently features the Decalogue (with several other statements of historical significance sharing its 4 sides), resulting in his suspension.
But the ACLU has warned Polk County, Florida’s monument could violate the Constitution’s prohibition against government establishing a religion.
Darlene Williams, president of the Tampa chapter of the ACLU, said the intent of placing the 10 Commandments on the monument and the finished product are among factors her group will consider in deciding whether to file a legal challenge, the Tampa paper said.
She said, however, her first impression was “it is very obviously different than the situation in Alabama with Judge Moore’s monument.”
“We feel it’s very defendable,” said the Rev. Mickey Carter, who proposed the Polk monument nearly two years ago with County Commissioner Randy Wilkinson, the Tribune reported.
About 500 people attended a ceremony Thursday night unveiling the monument on the second anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The monument’s supporters argue, unlike Moore’s memorial, the 10 Commandments represents only 8 percent of the writings on the rock, and the $150,000 cost was financed privately, not by a government official, the Tampa paper said.
The monument, which is 7 feet tall and weighs more than 5,000 pounds, was on the agenda of a special meeting held by the Tampa ACLU Thursday night, but Williams said it would not make a quick decision about any legal action.
ACLU member Don Micklewright, 83, believes the display violates the First Amendment.
“They’re claiming it’s a historical document,” he told the Tribune. “That’s just a subterfuge.”
The Tampa paper noted the Polk County ceremony had religious overtones, and many in attendance heard about the unveiling through their church. But Carter contends the display has a secular purpose that overrides any religious purpose.
“The idea came forward as a result of a new spirit of patriotism that arose from the ashes of 9-11,” he told the crowd, according to the paper.
Meanwhile, the ACLU in Pennsylvania decided yesterday not to appeal its lawsuit challenging a 10 Commandments plaque at the Chester County courthouse.
The suit was brought on behalf of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia which had contended the 83-year-old bronze plaque violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in June the plaque’s age and historical status – not its religious content – was the county commissioners’ prime motive when they refused to remove it in 2001, the paper said.