Commandments Caper: Louisiana Town Permits Decalogue In Park

'We're a Christian-based community,' Mayor Harold Rideau said.

I've always been skeptical of psychics, palm-readers and other prognosticators who claim to see the future, but today I'm going to gaze into my crystal ball and deliver a message to officials in Baker, La.: You are going to be sued very soon.

Furthermore, you are going to lose.

The Baton Rouge Advocate reports that a former city official has installed a Ten Commandments plaque in a government-owned park that honors veterans. A.T. Furr, a former councilman, paid for the monument and its installation, and the city council approved its display without a formal vote "by word of mouth."

It sits there all by itself in the park. Asked about this, Mayor Harold Rideau said, "We're a Christian-based community." Rideau admits he did not consult with the city attorney.

Rideau probably should have, because he just admitted that the display has religious significance. Whoops! The federal court that hears this case will probably be interested in that.

In fact, City Attorney Ron Wall, had he been asked, would have advised caution. "If it's put up with City Hall knowledge and consent, it's probably not legal. I'm not saying I'm against it, but I think it's illegal," he said.

But here's my favorite part of the story: Furr told the Advocate he believes the display is constitutional because it is in a park.

"I guess anybody can complain," he said, "but I've talked to legal people who say it's legal as long as it's in a park."

I don't know which "legal people" Furr talked to, but they obviously don't know anything about church-state law. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Commandments display on the grounds of the Texas statehouse in Austin because it was part of a series of monuments and markers in a park setting, some religious and some secular.

The same day, the high court struck down a Commandments display at the McCreary County, Ky., courthouse that stood alone. The purpose of that display, the court said, was to endorse religion.

Baker's display is much closer to McCreary County's than Austin's. It's a big, juicy target that's just waiting to become the focal point for a lawsuit. Low-hanging fruit, really.

There's one way to avoid that expensive proposition: Furr installed the monument, and he can uninstall it. City officials should order him to do that forthwith. Furr can then help find the monument a new home.

I'm thinking the lawn of a church would make sense.