ACLU Ousted From Ten Commandments Case

     (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union lacks standing to challenge a display of the Ten Commandments outside a Florida courthouse, the 11th Circuit ruled.
     The ACLU of Florida sued Dixie County, just outside the Florida panhandle, for approving a large monument displaying the Ten Commandments on the county courthouse steps.
     The ACLU claimed that the 5-feet tall granite monument, which features the Ten Commandments and the inscription “Love God and Keep His Commandments,” was “an unconstitutional endorsement of religion” by the county, which violated the Establishment Clause.
     A federal judge last year found that Dixie County clearly endorsed the monument’s religious message by allowing the display on the front steps of the courthouse, but the county appealed, claiming that ACLU’s member who had brought the action lacked standing to sue.
     Plaintiff John Doe, a resident of North Carolina, owned a winter home in a county adjacent to Dixie County. While looking for property in Dixie County, Doe visited the county courthouse in January 2007, according to the ruling. The ACLU claimed that, while at the courthouse, Doe saw the monument and had a “negative” reaction to it, which determined him to give up his search for property in Dixie County.
     The county, however, pointed to Doe’s testimony, which indicated that, although Doe had been “somewhat offended by the monument,” other things may have contributed to his decision to stop looking for property in the county.
     After Doe’s deposition, the ACLU also submitted an affidavit from Doe, stating that he was “deeply disturbed that the county openly embraced religious doctrine,” and that he would resume his search for property in the county if the monument were removed.
     The 11th Circuit last week agreed that, given Doe’s inconsistent testimony, the district court should have considered all the evidence, including Doe’s deposition. The court mistakenly relied on Doe’s affidavit, to the exclusion of the deposition testimony, the ruling states.
     The court should have conducted an evidentiary hearing to establish whether Doe had suffered a real “injury” that gave him standing to sue.
     “The existence of alternative or additional reasons for Doe’s abandonment of his search for property in the county could render Doe’s injury speculative – more ‘hypothetical’ than ‘actual,'” Judge Wilson wrote for the court. “Additionally, if other factors caused Doe’s injury, that would undermine the claim that his injury is redressable by removal of the monument.”
     Doe is not a resident of the county, has no legal or business obligations to visit the county, and has not established whether the monument was the only thing that deterred him from buying property in the county, according to the 33-page ruling.
     The Circuit reversed the district court’s decision and directed it to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine what testimony is credible.
     In a partially dissenting opinion, Judge Edmondson noted that Doe lacked constitutional standing to sue the county in federal court, and the court should simply dismiss the lawsuit.”Where standing is lacking, the litigation should be stopped as early as possible: a matter of saving scarce resources as well as respect for the most basic Constitutional law,” Edmondson wrote.

%d bloggers like this: