Tuesday, October 03, 2000

Ten Commandments backers see many signs of support

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dorothy Glasgow and Rev. Kenneth Johnson packs signs for shipment.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        SEAMAN, Ohio — While waiting for what they hope will be a favorable court ruling, supporters of posting the Ten Commandments in public schools say today is proof they have already won a victory in the court of public opinion.

        Sometime today in Adams County, the Rev. Kenneth Johnson will supervise the shipping of the 100,000th Ten Commandment sign to a like-minded supporter somewhere in the Tristate or nation.

        The 100,000th sign being shipped is significant, says the minister heading the pro-commandments movement, because it underscores the wide public sentiment fueling the campaign to introduce the Judeo-Christian canons into public schools and institutions.

        “This is a milestone. It shows how much of a grass-roots movement this has been, and we're definitely winning in the court of public opinion,” said the Rev. Mr. Johnson, head of the Seaman United Methodist Church in Adams County and leader of Adams County for the Ten Commandments (ACTC).

        The ACTC's signs, which sell for $2, include the words: “We Stand For The Ten Commandments.”

        He said many of the 100,000 signs have been bought by Tristate residents since August 1999 and have been shipped at a rate of about 1,500 per week, reaching 47 states.

        The Ohio American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit last year against the public school system in Adams County — a rural county 50 miles east of Cincinnati — for placing granite tablets bearing the Ten Com mandments outside four of its high schools.

        ACLU officials want the school district to remove the tablets, saying they violate the Constitution by promoting religion in public schools. The case, which originally had the ACLU suing the Adams County Board of Education but was later expanded to include the ACTC, is pending in federal court in Cincinnati. A ruling may not come until the spring.

        Elsewhere in Ohio and Kentucky, the contentious issue continues to polarize communities and garner the attention of various courts.

        In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati ordered the state of Ohio to abandon its 41-year-old motto — “With God, all things are possible” — after concluding that it is a government endorsement of religion.

        In Kentucky several cases are pending, but in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on a Kentucky lawsuit and found posting the commandments in schools amounted to an unconstitutional government promotion of religion.

        Later this month, Kentucky's attorney general is expected to file an appeal in the wake of a high-profile ruling in July against a display on the Frankfort state capital grounds.

        Kentucky Attorney General Ben Chandler plans to appeal the ruling by the 6th Circuit that a monument to the scriptural passage cannot legally be erected on Capitol grounds.

        The monument, a 6-foot-2-inch stone tablet, was donated to the state in 1971 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. In July, U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood struck down a General Assembly resolution for the monument to be taken out of storage and placed near the giant floral clock behind the Capitol.

        ACLU officials today say they are equally buoyed by legal precedence of earlier Ten Commandment rulings from the courts.

        “It's not even a close case. There is no legal support whatsoever for what they are doing,” said Scott Greenwood, the general counsel to the ACLU for Ohio.

        Mr. Greenwood describes the Adams County case as “unloseable.”

        “The government can't support religion. When the school board posted the Ten Commandments ... they violated the establishment clause in the most literal sense,” he said.

        Mr. Greenwood added that the ACLU is objecting only to a publicly funded institution such as the schools endorsing any religion.

        “The ACLU supports the rights of individual people to express their religion,” he said.

        The money raised by ACTC's selling of the signs is going to the legal fees to battle the ACLU's lawsuit, the Rev. Mr. Johnson said.

        “I'm cautiously optimistic. I think we have a good chance of winning this case,” he said.

        Ray Schaefer contributed to this report.


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