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Federal court OKs Washington city's commandments display

By The Associated Press
09.14.05

SEATTLE — A Ten Commandments monument can remain on display outside the police station in Everett, a federal judge says, basing his decision on two recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

“The display at issue here poses no threat to the religious freedoms of the citizens of Everett,” U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik wrote in yesterday’s ruling in Card v. Everett.

In June, the Supreme Court issued seemingly contradictory 5-4 rulings in two Ten Commandments cases. In McCreary County v. ACLU, the majority struck down a framed, relatively new display of the Commandments on the wall of a Kentucky courthouse. In Van Orden v. Perry, the Court upheld the display of a decades-old Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas state capitol.

“The average American who is not a constitutional scholar may be mystified by the two Ten Commandments opinions,” Lasnik wrote. But he went on to explain that, according to the Supreme Court, the difference is in context: In Kentucky, the display was intended to promote religion; in Texas, it was to honor the Ten Commandments as a legal and historical text.

Lasnik said that he visited Everett, about 30 miles north of Seattle, to view the monument, and had decided that the context of the city’s monument was almost identical to that of the Texas display. Both were donated decades ago by the Fraternal Order of Eagles with a stated goal of promoting good behavior among teens. Both stand near other monuments, and neither generated many complaints.

There is little, if anything, to indicate that Everett intended to promote religion when it accepted the monument in 1959, the judge said. Its placement — behind shrubs, overshadowed by lighted war memorials — gives it an air of “disregard or neglect”; if the city was trying to promote religion, it would have given the monument a more prominent placement, he said.

City officials said they were pleased with Lasnik’s ruling. The city spent more than $100,000 to defend itself against the lawsuit, which was brought by Everett resident and self-described agnostic Jesse Card. The lawsuit sought $1 in punitive damages.

“This confirms the important role this monument has had in our community,” Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said.

Rob Boston, a spokesman for Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Church and State, which provided Card’s legal help, said the organization knew it had little chance of winning, given the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Texas case.

“Basically what the court said was that if you’ve been violating the Constitution for a long time, then it’s OK,” Boston said.

Boston said Americans United had not decided whether to appeal.


Update
9th Circuit finds Ten Commandments monument constitutional
By David L. Hudson Jr. Everett, Wash., display, donated in 1959, can stay on grounds of Old City Hall. 04.01.08

Related

Commandments plaque can remain outside Pittsburgh courthouse

Meanwhile, Christian leaders urge people to kneel in prayer to prevent removal of Alabama monument; other controversies brew in Washington, Kansas, Montana. 07.29.03

Indiana county can keep Ten Commandments marker
Federal judge rules monument meets constitutional test set by Supreme Court in Texas case. 09.11.05

Ten Commandments, other issues generating debate in Ky.
Governor has signed bill allowing granite monument to be returned to state Capitol grounds; dispute arises over use of "B.C., A.D." in public schools. 04.13.06

Ten Commandments can stay on Ohio courthouse lawn
Federal judge says Toledo monument honors tradition, doesn't promote specific religious belief. 04.20.06

Context is key to sorting out Commandments rulings
By Tony Mauro Sharply divided Court finds older monuments likely OK; newer, sectarian-driven displays may be challenged. 06.28.05

Ten Commandments, other displays & mottos

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