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Pastors say message unhurt by loss of monument

Houston’s Bible monument

Christian pastors from the Houston area say their faith is not affected, nor will the ultimate outcome be changed, by the loss of a monument that contained a Bible in their city.

“Enemies of Christianity have been trying to silence the church for 2,000 years and remove the Bible from influence for a millennium,” the pastors said in a statement after the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not reconsider the case.

“The fact is that the simple removal of one Bible from a relatively obscure display will not make the Bible less accessible to the people … We trust in a God who will not be silenced by legal decree,” they said.

The monument holding a Bible had been on the grounds of Houston’s county courthouse. But its presence was challenged by a lawsuit, which resulted in a local judge’s ruling to remove the book, a divided appellate court conclusion, and the recent refusal by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

The statement came from Dave Welch, executive director for the Houston Area Pastors Conference, which has been working to defend the Bible.

The dispute was over the monument that was installed in the 1950s in honor of William Mosher, the founder of Star of Hope Mission. It stood for years without controversy, but after it was damaged, then repaired in the 1990s, an atheist alleged it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

The rulings at the U.S. District Court level and from a panel of the 5th Circuit concluded, essentially, that the monument had been legal until Christians gathered there to pray.

“The ramifications of this tortured decision are breath-taking and without any historic or legitimate Constitutional rationale,” the pastors’ organization said at the time. “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.”

When the case was presented to the full 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, its conclusion wasn’t any better, the pastors said. The court found that the case was made moot because the county had removed the monument temporarily for remodeling. The appellate judges also left in place the district court’s conclusion that the monument was illegal.

The appellate court, which issued its decision in three separate opinions, found that since the monument had been moved into storage for remodeling at the county facility, there no longer was an issue to be determined: the atheist who objected to the display of the Bible had gotten her desire.

“Furthermore, it is not known when, where, or under what circumstance the monument and Bible will be restored on the Courthouse grounds,” the majority opinion found, even though, “Harris County specifically has asserted that it will display the monument again after the renovations are complete.”

But a minority of the panel disagreed. “What the majority wholly ignores, however, is the well-settled rule that ‘a defendant’s voluntary cessation of a challenged practice does not deprive a federal court of its power to determine the legality of the practice.'”

“Despite the majority’s assertion to the contrary, it is not at all clear that Harris County’s voluntary removal of the monument caused this case to become moot. Rather, Harris County’s placement of the monument in storage pending completion of the Courthouse renovations mooted this case only if that act made it absolutely clear that the Establishment Clause violation alleged to have occurred in this case could not reasonably be expected to recur,” said the opinion from Judges Emilio Garza, Edith Brown Clement and Priscilla Owen.

Welch told WND that there already have been some discussions among county officials and the mission leaders, who technically own the monument, about whether there would be circumstances under which it could be replaced – constitutionally – on public grounds, or whether a private location would be optimum. But he said no decisions had been made.

“I’m waiting to hear back from the principals [involved,]” he said.

The pastors’ prepared statement noted the case brought by Kay Staley, and the ruling from Judge Sim Lake, ultimately would matter little.

“The determination that to have a Bible on display in a private monument is unconstitutional, was from the beginning a rejection of our history, the First Amendment and even current case law. Judge Sim Lake’s decision was terribly flawed and unfortunately has survived the appellate process,” the pastors said.

“However, the secularists and atheists represented by Kay Staley and her anti-religious legal hounds will find this a temporary victory. The religious freedom bought and paid for by the lives, fortunes and sacred honor of our ancestors will not be so easily stolen.

“The Bible in the display represented William Mosher’s faith which inspired his public philanthropy that in turn has blessed thousands of lives. Its public placement meant that we as a people honored him as well as his faith, understanding that they are inseparable,” the pastors said.

“The Bible has stood as a foundational source of our morals, laws and liberty since Rev. Robert Hunt placed a cross in the sand at Cape Henry, Va., in 1607 and it has been tragically left to our generation to turn our back on our heritage.

“We send notice to those who would steal this heritage, undermine our national foundations and attack the public expression of faith that they may have won this skirmish, however they will lose the war,” they said.

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