Religious monument ordered to be removed

Judge rules Ten Commandments marker in Elkhart County building unconstitutional

SOUTH BEND — Another Ten Commandments display in Elkhart County must be removed from a public site, a federal judge has ruled.

Nearly two years after a similar outcome in a federal suit against the city of Elkhart, the county was ordered to take down a Ten Commandment display that hangs alongside historical documents inside the county administration building in Goshen.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. ordered its removal by Friday, ruling the Constitution forbids a government to post the Ten Commandments in a government building without a secular purpose.

“The record before the court cannot support a finding that the county had any purpose other than paying homage to the Ten Commandments,” the judge wrote in his ruling. “The Constitution guarantees citizens the right to pay homage, but forbids governments from doing so.”

Miller approved plaintiff William Books’ request for summary judgment. The order was dated March 19 and the judgment was entered Monday. Books, an Elkhart County resident, also was a party in the city suit.

In that case, the city agreed to remove a granite monument bearing the Ten Commandments from where it stood in front of the Elkhart City Hall.

That agreement was reached in May 2002.

“We’re obviously very happy. We believe that the law is very clear in this area,” Kenneth Falk, legal director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, said in a telephone interview Monday. The ICLU filed both of the suits on behalf of Books.

Falk said the judge’s ruling makes clear that the Ten Commandments display does not serve the county’s stated purpose of contributing to moral character and historical knowledge.

“It’s not a display of law. It’s a display of American documents along with the Ten Commandments,” he added.

County Commissioner Martin McCloskey, who backed a resolution authorizing the display, said Monday night he was disappointed with the ruling.

“We’ll comply with the judge’s order, but I’m sure that we’ll appeal it to the 7th Circuit (U.S. Court of Appeals),” McCloskey said and, if necessary, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two individuals, Jim Bontrager and Bob Weaver, donated the set of documents to the county. They included the Preamble to the Indiana Constitution, the national motto, national anthem, Lady Justice, Declaration of Independence, Mayflower Compact, Bill of Rights, Magna Carta and Ten Commandments.

On March 17, 2003, county officials dedicated the “Foundations of American Law and Government Display.”

The county’s resolution claimed the documents, as a whole, had special historical significance and contributed to the educational foundation and moral character of the community.

The Ten Commandments, the display explains, have “profoundly influenced the formation of western legal thought and the formation of our country.”Books sued several days later, claiming he’s met by a “direct and unwelcome exposure to a religious message” on trips to the county administration building.

As a disabled veteran, Books must go there annually to receive a waiver of the state excise tax on motor vehicles as well as for other personal reasons. He parks in a parking lot near a door by the “Foundations” display.

“This entrance to the building takes him immediately past the commissioners’ office and the challenged display, which is outside the commissioners’ office,” his lawyer argued.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
South Bend Tribune, USA
Mar. 30, 2004
Matthew S. Galbraith
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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday March 31, 2004.
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