Commandments displays ordered removed in Hamilton County
The Associated Press, 5-4-02
CHATTANOOGA A federal judge Friday ordered the removal of Ten Commandments plaques from two courthouses, ruling that their display violates the constitutional separation of church and state. U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar said the engraved plaques shaped like stone tablets must come down from the walls of the Hamilton County Courthouse and Hamilton County-City Courts Building.
However, Edgar said the Ten Commandments display can remain at the county's Juvenile Court Building because the plaintiffs, the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and several county residents, did not have grounds to challenge that posting. Edgar said none of the plaintiffs do business at the Juvenile Court so have not "endured unwelcome contact" with the display there.
The Ten Commandments were posted in December after a vote by Hamilton County commissioners in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Edgar said the nation's founders' made a conscious decision to separate religion and government, which "has served us well." "Experience tells us that there is perhaps nothing more divisive than the interjection of religion into our government. The controversy engendered by this commission action is proof of this," Edgar wrote. He said that with the postings, "the commission has acted with both the purpose and effect of endorsing religion."
More than half of Tennessee's 95 counties have approved similar Ten Commandments displays, and more than 30 have posted the biblical laws. Washington County has had such a display for more than 80 years. Tennessee ACLU director Hedy Weinberg called the decision a victory for religious freedom and said she hopes other county commissions take heed of this decision and either not post the Ten Commandments in their public buildings or take down those postings currently on display. Although Edgar's opinion only affects counties in the eastern part of the state, Weinberg said judges usually respect the opinions of their peers.
The ACLU has also sued in Rutherford County, located in Middle Tennessee, over the posting of the Ten Commandments in the Murfreesboro courthouse and goes to court there Monday. Weinberg said the ACLU has begun talking with potential plaintiffs who have done business at Hamilton County juvenile court building and will file another suit to seek the plaque's removal there.
Quoting the Kingsport Times-News (1-18-2004)
"It seems clearer and clearer and clearer that we are promoting a particular religion, and that's a violation of the Constitution. The Constitution is the one document that protects minorities, and just because most people feel the Christian faith or the Jewish faith is the right faith, that doesn't mean they have a right to impose it on everyone else.