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Monday, December 11, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge Shalt Not Meld Church and State

(CN) - The 6th Circuit appeals ruled that a poster of the Ten Commandments hanging in an Ohio courtroom was unconstitutional.

The poster marked the second attempt by Judge James DeWeese, who presides at the Common Pleas Court in Richland County, Ohio, to hang the Ten Commandments in his courtroom after the appeals court forced him to remove a similar display in 2004.

This time DeWeese argued that his speech was protected because his newer "secular" poster merely outlined the conflict between religious and humanist principals.

But the American Civil Liberties Union begged to differ, suing DeWeese for a second time under the First and 14th Amendments, as well as under the Ohio Constitution.

The Ten Commandments were listed in one column of DeWeese's display, next to a second column that narrowed down the principals of moral relativism to seven statements.

Included were quotes the judge attributed to humanists. One read: "Personal autonomy is a higher good than responsibility to your neighbor or obedience to fixed moral duties." Another stated: "Quality-of-life decisions justify assisting the death of a fetus, defective infant, profoundly disabled or terminally ill person."

At the bottom of the display, DeWeese declared: "The cases passing through this courtroom demonstrate we are paying a high cost in increased crime and other social ills for moving from moral absolutism to moral relativism since the mid 20th century."

The three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit appeals court affirmed the earlier decision of a federal judge, who declared the display unconstitutional under state and federal law.

Judge Eric Clay, writing for the court, said that DeWeese's "purported secular purpose" was a "sham," concluding the display violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

"Although defendant attempts to veil his religious purpose by casting his religious advocacy in philosophical terms ... replacing the word religion with the word philosophy does not mask the religious nature of defendant's purpose," Clay wrote.

The court also rejected DeWeese's argument that the poster was secular in nature.

"While the poster effectively links the Ten Commandments and secular principles," the judges found that it did not send a secular message.

"By stating that the 'moral absolutes' of 'the God of the Bible' are the 'fixed moral standards for restoring the moral fabric of this nation,' that should triumph in the 'conflict of legal and moral philosophies raging in the United States,' the poster 'specifically links religion and civil government,'" the ruling states, quoting its earlier ruling on the case.

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