Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Court Orders 10 Commandments Monument Removed From Florida Courthouse

In ACLU of Florida Inc. v. Dixie County Florida, (ND FL, July 15, 2011), a Florida federal district court held that Dixie County must remove a large Ten Commandments monument that has been displayed since 2006 on the steps of the County Courthouse. (Photo om monument). The monument was authorized at the urging of a local businessman who paid for it and challenged the Board of County Commissioners to have the courage to allow him to put it up. The court rejected the argument that the monument protected private speech of the businessman who paid for, and owns, it:
Dixie County contends that the six-ton granite monument is not permanent because it is not anchored to the stone of the courthouse steps. Because it is not a permanent monument, Dixie County argues, the display should be analyzed as would a speaker speaking in a public forum on the topic of their choosing, rather than as a monument that may imply government endorsement by the circumstances of its placement or continued presence. The Court disagrees. In this analysis, the opposite of permanent is not “detached,” but rather “temporary.” Dixie County cites no authority for the proposition that only monuments anchored or affixed to their surroundings should be considered permanent. The monument in question weighs twelve thousand pounds, has been there for three years, and Dixie County has no plans to move it....
Despite the actual ownership of the monument, the location and permanent nature of the display make it clear to all reasonable observers that Dixie County chooses to be associated with the message being conveyed. As such, the Court finds that the monument displaying the Ten Commandments is government speech and must comport with the Establishment Clause.
Moving to the Establishment Clause issue, the court concluded:
The monument is five-feet tall, made of six tons of granite, and sits alone at the center of the top of the steps in front of the county courthouse that houses every significant local government office. “No viewer could reasonably think that it occupies this location without the support and approval of the government.”
The court ordered the monument removed within 30 days and awarded nominal damages of $1 to the ACLU. The ACLU issued a press release announcing the decision and the Gainesville (FL) Sun reports on the decision.