Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Religious markers at schools must go

Court upholds prior decision on Adams Co.

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Adams County/Ohio Valley School Board must remove the Ten Commandments from the grounds of its four high schools while it appeals a ruling that they're unconstitutional, a federal appeals court here ruled Tuesday.

[photo] This granite marker at Peebles Jr. Sr. High School has the Ten Commandments engraved on it.
(Tony Jones photo)
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A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to uphold a federal court's June decision.

"It's not over yet," vowed the Rev. Ken Johnson, a member of Adams County for the Ten Commandments.

The Adams County/Ohio Valley School Board had asked to be allowed to merely cover up the Ten Commandments while the board appealed the decision of U.S. Magistrate Timothy Hogan. He ruled that the display is unconstitutional because it appears to give government approval to a particular religious viewpoint.

The school board's lawyers said moving the 3-foot tablets, which weigh at least 800 pounds apiece, would be expensive and that the monuments might break.

Appeals Judges Damon Keith and Karen Moore said, however, that the expense or inconvenience wasn't enough to overcome the continuing constitutional violation of having the display on public grounds.

In a dissent, Judge Cornelia Kennedy said she would have allowed the monuments to be covered.

Frank Manion, the school board's lawyer, said Tuesday afternoon a decision had not been made on whether to ask the full appeals court to reconsider.

"They're still there in front of each of the high schools," Mr. Manion said.

The Rev. Mr. Johnson wasn't surprised by the ruling because a federal judge ruled Monday that a Ten Commandments monument installed in Alabama's judicial building by the state's chief justice must be removed because it violates separation of church and state.

"We believe they're the moral foundations of United States law," the Rev. Mr. Johnson said of the Ten Commandments. "In the 13 original colonies, if you broke one of the Ten Commandments, you were breaking the law.

"I think what's really sad is they're trying to remove history. ... It seems you can't mention God anymore in public places. I don't think that was the Founding Fathers' intention at all," the Rev. Mr. Johnson said.

The Adams County monuments were a gift from ministers in the county, about 60 miles east of Cincinnati, and have been at the schools since 1997.

"The main reason we put up the commandments in the first place is we were seeing the moral breakdown of the schools," said the Rev. Mr. Johnson, pastor of Seaman United Methodist Church. In the 1940s, he said, the biggest problem in schools was chewing gum violations.

Sixty years later, it was murder at Columbine High School.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued in 1999 on behalf of Peebles resident Berry Baker. Scott Greenwood, general counsel of the ACLU of Ohio, said Tuesday's decision implies the defendants don't have a good argument in their appeal.

"This is not the end of the road, but it certainly is a milepost in that direction," Mr. Greenwood said. "It will be interesting to see if these people will comply with the court's order. We expect that they will do so."

The Ten Commandments at first were displayed alone.

After the lawsuit was filed, the board placed secular displays of passages from the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights around the Ten Commandments, arguing that made their presence acceptable as part of a broader display.

Judge Hogan rejected that argument.

The Associated Press contributed.


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