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Full 8th Circuit OKs Nebraska commandments display

By The Associated Press
08.19.05

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported on Sept. 19 that ACLU Nebraska had decided not to take the Plattsmouth Ten Commandments case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Unless the ACLU's Plattsmouth client finds another legal team to make a final appeal to the high court, the tombstone-shaped monument will remain in a city park.

LINCOLN, Neb. — A federal appeals court today reversed its earlier ruling that said a Ten Commandments monument must be removed from a city park in Plattsmouth.

The ruling is the latest in a contentious debate being contested across the United States, as opponents to religious moments say they breach the Constitution’s separation of church and state, while other groups say they simply reflect the nation’s historic religious roots.

The 11-2 ruling from the entire 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in ACLU v. Plattsmouth reversed a ruling last year from one of the court’s three-judge panels.

The court cited a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that said it was constitutionally permissible to display the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas Capitol.

In the Texas case, Van Orden v. Perry, the high court said a 6-foot-tall granite monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol — one of 17 historical displays on the 22-acre lot — was a legitimate tribute to the nation’s legal and religious history.

But on the same day the Supreme Court made the Texas ruling, it also issued a ruling in a Kentucky case, McCreary County v. ACLU, that struck down Ten Commandments displays inside two courthouses.

The Supreme Court said the key to whether a display is constitutional hinges on whether there is a religious purpose behind it.

Those rulings meant thousands of Ten Commandments displays around the nation would be validated if their primary purpose was to honor the nation’s legal, rather than religious, traditions. Location also would be considered, with wide open spaces more acceptable than schoolhouses filled with young students.

It was on this basis that the full 8th Circuit made its decision today.

Writing for the court, Judge Pasco Bowman said the “the Plattsmouth monument makes passive and permissible use of the text of the Ten Commandments to acknowledge the role of religion in our nation’s heritage.”

“Similar references to and representations of the Ten Commandments on government property are replete throughout our country,” he said. “Buildings housing the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Department of Justice, the Court of Appeals and District Court for the District of Columbia, and the United States House of Representatives all include depictions of the Ten Commandments.”

Lawyers for Plattsmouth had argued that the monument was simply a gift from a prominent civic group, not an endorsement of religion.

The Ten Commandments monument in Plattsmouth is among hundreds donated to cities and counties around the nation in the 1950s and 1960s by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

Plattsmouth, a town of 7,000 some 20 miles south of Omaha, received its tombstone-shaped monument in 1965.

In addition to the text, the monument is emblazoned with two Stars of David, which are symbols of the Jewish faith. It sits in Memorial Park.

The man who filed the lawsuit said he could see the monument from a street on his way to work each day and when he attended events in the park.

The 8th Circuit said the monument has “a dual significance, partaking of both religion and government.”

Bowman also noted that the monument is 200 yards from the park’s public parking lot and that there are no roads or walkways from the parking lot to the monument.

“The words of the monument face away from the park, away from any recreational equipment, picnic tables, benches, or shelters,” Bowman said. “Although the inscribed side of the monument faces the road, it is too far away to be read by passing motorists.”

The American Center for Law and Justice, a group that focuses on family and religious issues, had asked the 8th Circuit to review an earlier ruling in the Plattsmouth case by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Lincoln rejected the city’s argument that the monument was protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.


Previous
8th Circuit: Commandments must be removed from Nebraska park
Three-judge panel upholds lower court ruling, says Plattsmouth monument's 'message is undeniably religious.' 02.19.04

Related

Full 8th Circuit to hear Nebraska commandments case

Appeals court agrees to review three-judge panel's ruling that monument in city park violates church-state separation. 04.08.04

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

Ten Commandments, other displays & mottos

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