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Houston Bible ban to be reviewed by court

Houston’s Bible monument

A court opinion that participants said could have left any public facility or building in danger of being declared unconstitutional if a prayer meeting was held there will be re-heard by the federal appeals court that released the first opinion.

A federal court order said the dispute over a Bible in a monument on public property in Houston will be heard by the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the earlier opinion, from a panel on the court, was being vacated.

“We are very pleased that several of the justices saw the inequities in the decisions by Judge Lake as well as the Fifth Circuit panel and initiated further hearing of this case by the full court,” said a statement from the Houston Area Pastor Council. “The fact that every judge who has and will be involved in this case swears their oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution with their hand on a Bible illustrates the fallacy of declaring the Bible in the Mosher Monument unconstitutional.”

The dispute is over a Bible in the monument, which is designed like a podium.

An atheist challenged the existence of the monument, and on an appeal from the Judge Sim Lake’s district court decision the Bible was unconstitutional, the 5th Circuit panel carried it even further.

That ruling said the monument became an unconstitutional “establishment” after a 2003 rally was held by Christians to defend the display. The court noted that rally involved both prayers and clergy.

“The anti-religious content of Judge Lake’s decision, particularly its attack on public religious expression by elected officials and clergy, must not stand,” the pastors said.

Dave Welch, executive director for the Houston Area Pastors Conference, which has been working to defend the Bible, told WND the court earlier pulled a “Roe vs. Wade.”

He was referring to the 1973 decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court discovered the right to an abortion in the U.S. Constitution. In this case, he said, the court divided the existence of the monument into three trimesters, and found that in the current trimester, it was unconstitutional.

“On one hand, this is not unique,” Welch told WND. “We’ve seen this happening all over the country.”

He said the monument had been on the county grounds for several decades without offense. It had been installed in honor of William Mosher, the founder of Star of Hope Mission.

The monument, however, had been damaged, and in 1996, it was repaired with donated funding. Then came one atheist and suddenly the religious rights of an entire community had to be compromised, he said.

Polling has shown that about 86 percent of the people in Houston want to keep the Bible monument at the public location, he said.

“The ramifications of this tortured decision are breath-taking and without any historic or legitimate Constitutional rationale,” the pastors’ organization said of the earlier conclusion. “For the court to state that if a private citizen exercises his or her First Amendment rights of religious expression and assembly on public property, that any monument, building or fixed item of any kind that contains religious references becomes ‘establishment of religion’ is simply irrational.”

The pastors conference said under that now-failed reasoning, any monument, building or even feature of nature would be an illegal “establishment of religion” if a church ceremony is held there.

The case now will be heard “en banc,” or by the full 5th Circuit Court, instead of just by a panel, the court order said. The same order also struck down the previous decision by the court’s panel, leaving it open for the Bible to be replaced in the monument pending the next court decision, Welch told WND.

Welch said under such decisions as the court’s earlier ruling, America is well on its way to a persecuted Christian church.

“We have history, law and the founding fathers who adopted the Constitution collectively affirming the truth expressed by revered Justice Joseph Story in 1840 that, ‘We are not to attribute this prohibition of a national religious establishment to an indifference to religion in general, and especially to Christianity,'” a statement from the pastor’s group had said.

The court’s earlier finding could mean the Washington Monument’s reference to God would have to be eliminated, and the Supreme Court’s Ten Commandments might need to be taken down, officials said.

Welch said there are experts on constitutional law from organizations such as Liberty Legal Institute and the Alliance Defense Fund who have been and plan to continue assisting the county in its fight over the representation of the Bible.

Because the atheist’s lawsuit was against the county over the monument on county land, the pastors and their advisors have been directing their assistance to County Attorney Michael Stafford, who has been leading the arguments in the case.

“The First Amendment was adopted to restrain government’s interference with religion and through a series of revisionist court decisions over the past sixty years we have lost much of that restraint. We are mandated by our calling and by our God to proclaim truth and defend the freedoms bought by the blood of our savior and hundreds of thousands of patriots to this day,” the pastors said.

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