HOUSTON – A judge on Tuesday ordered Harris County to remove a Bible from a monument outside its civil courts building, ruling that the display violates the constitutional separation between church and state.
Federal Judge Sim Lake said the county should be exercising religious neutrality and “not be seen as endorsing Christianity.” He gave officials 10 days to remove the Bible.
“The court concludes that the purpose of the Bible display is to encourage people to read the Bible,” Lake wrote. “What other purpose could there be for prominently displaying an open Bible in an illuminated case tilted toward passers-by in a heavily frequented plaza in front of the main entrance to the courthouse?”
Real estate broker and attorney Kay Staley sued the county last August. She expressed delight over Tuesday’s ruling.
“It is just a wonderful day for religious freedom and religious diversity,” she said.
The county argued that the display originated as a private expression of free speech – with private donations being used to buy the Bible – and that the county should not be held responsible for its contents.
Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said he is reviewing the ruling with the county attorney to develop strategies for an appeal.