Friday, March 06, 2015

Suit Challenges Quote From British Jurist Posted In Rhode Island's High Court

A Rhode Island lawyer this week filed a federal lawsuit challenging a quotation from British jurist Sir Edward Coke inscribed above the bench of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The complaint (full text) in Gelfuso v. Suttell, (D RI, filed 3/4/2015) alleges in part:
6. Inscribed above the bench of the Rhode Island Supreme Court are the words "Non Sub Homine Sed Sub Deo Et Lege" ....
7. On information and belief, this is a phrase which translates as "Not under man, but under God and law."
8. Plaintiff considers this inscription as conveying a government endorsement of religion and a particular religious viewpoint with which Plaintiff does not agree.
Plaintiff not only seeks an injunction against displaying the inscription, but also an injunction against the court's continued distribution of an allegedly misleading publication that describes the quote's history and Lord Coke's relationship with Rhode Island's founder Roger Williams. The complaint alleges:
15. Though the publication portrays Lord Coke as a defender of freedom and equality defying a tyrannical king, Coke had actually been a persecutor of religious and political dissidents in England who had supported the ecclesiastical court of the High Commission and its counterpart the Star Chamber.
16. While Coke had mentored Roger Williams as a youth, Roger Williams later denounced Coke's views regarding religious persecution, the separation of church and state, and the Church of England, which eventually led to his own religious persecution and the founding of Rhode Island.
The full complaint makes fascinating reading for fans of English legal history. GoLocalProv carries a lengthy story on the lawsuit.