Thursday, March 23, 2000

Adams Co. group wins award for Commandments fight

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SEAMAN — Organizers of Adams County for the Ten Commandments (ACTC) will receive an award Monday from a national organization of clergy for leading a fight to continue to display the commandments outside Adams County public schools.

        The award also recognizes ACTC for distributing more than 65,000 yard signs bearing the commandments to supporters locally and nationwide.

        The Rev. Rob Schenck, general secretary of the National Clergy Council (NCC), will present the Ohio Ten Commandments Leadership Award at North Adams County High School. It's one of four county schools where the commandments are being displayed under legal protest from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

        “This has been one of the most notable efforts to bring the Ten Commandments back into public display status within the schools,” said the Rev. Mr. Schenck in a phone interview Wednesday. “Also (ACTC) ... has set in motion ... the success of signs promoting the Ten Commandments ... nationally,” he said.

        The Rev. Mr. Schenck will present the award to the ACTC organizers during afternoon ceremonies. Several representatives of Ohio church organizations will be present.

        The Rev. Ken Johnson, organizer of the ACTC and pastor of Seaman United Methodist Church, said he welcomes the award and perceives it as encouragement “to keep on with the battle. It reinforces what we have done.”

        The ACTC is led by about 20 organizers “including religious leaders, concerned citizens, attorneys, farmers, business leaders, carpenters,” the Rev. Mr. Johnson said.

        In February 1999, the ACLU sued the Adams County-Ohio Valley school board in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati for displaying the commandments at four high schools.

        ACLU Attorney Scott Greenwood said Wednesday he filed a motion Monday to invoke a judgment, based on the fact it is a well stated point of law that such religious displays “are not permitted on government property on a permanent basis.”

        Mr. Greenwood said that so long as the award ceremony is after school and not compulsory it can be held at the high school. The school, however, must be made available equally to all groups. “So, if we want to have a victory celebration when we win this, they have to rent it to us.”

        The Washington, D.C.-based NCC sponsors the National Ten Commandents Project which advocates reintroducing the commandments into American public policy and culture.

        In another development Wednesday — unrelated to the ACTC efforts or the award — the Rev. Joey Sandlin, pastor of the Praise and Worship Christian Center in Lawshe, Adams County, said his congregation of about 150 has purchased a 15-acre parcel along Ohio 32. It plans to raise money to erect 21-foot-wide and 40-foot-high Ten Commandment tablets there.

        The Rev. Mr. Sandlin said that while his church's project has no direct relationship to ACTC, “it is showing our support of what is the right thing to do. We are a part of this issue.”

        The Rev. Mr. Sandlin said his church plans to sell bricks to create a “standard bearer circle” — 100 feet in circumference — around the tablets with revenues funding the tablets. He estimated total cost of the project at $400,000

        “It is going to be only 100 feet off the highway ... six-tenths of a mile inside Adams County from the Brown County line — a gateway to the county ... with access (to the public) off Russellville Road. It will draw attention to the fight we have going on in Adams County” to display the com mandments on school grounds “and we hope other communities (nationwide) will follow suit ... by raising monuments ... and putting the commandments in schools.”

        The Rev. Mr. Johnson said he has no objection to the Rev. Mr. Sandlin's project so long as it is not (purported to be) ... ACTC sponsored.

        “We are trying to raise funding for the school board (court battle), and he is trying to raise funds for (the tablets); but, I have no problem with him doing it. We are not really endorsing it, or frowning on it.”

        Mr. Greenwood said there is nothing wrong with a religious display on private property. “I would be the first to defend their right to do it,” he said.


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