Dixie Decalogue Starring Mat Staver: Sequels Are Always Bad, Aren’t They?

If a county really wants to educate its citizens about the law, there are ways to do it that don’t run afoul of the First Amendment.

A federal judge recently ordered officials in Dixie County, Fla., to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse. Some people there are not happy.

I’ve seen this movie before. Here’s how the plot plays out: County officials do something they know full well is a violation of church-state separation. They are warned that they will be sued. They do it anyway, perhaps while huffing and puffing about taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. They get sued. They lose. They throw a fit. They accuse the judge of being an anti-religion fanatic. Maybe they appeal and lose again. They reluctantly agree to obey the law.

Oh, and did I mention that they squander a lot of taxpayer money paying legal fees?

It’s tiresome. Can we just skip the drama this time?

Dixie County, represented by Mat Staver’s Liberty Counsel, argued that its monument should stay because it has been there for a long time. Actually, it was erected in 2006. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed suit against it the following year.

The county argued that the monument was part of an “open forum.” But in this case, the forum’s not really so open since there’s nothing else in it.

The county also argued that the monument was paid for by a private citizen, so it must be OK. Nice try. It’s sitting in front of the courthouse. That would seem to be a strong indication that the county endorses its message. I’m going to take a wild guess here and speculate that if local members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster offered to pay for a monument listing the maxims of the Noodly One, the county wouldn’t accept it.

Staver told a local newspaper that his group has lost only one Ten Commandments case. He conveniently failed to mention that that case, which the Supreme Court refused to hear, resulted in two poor Kentucky counties being handed a legal bill for nearly half a million dollars. I wonder if Dixie County has that kind of cash lying around?

What really disturbs me about these cases is how they bring out the absolute worst in people – individuals who claim to be defending the virtues of religion. A TV station covered a pro-commandments rally and quoted a local resident named Richard Elton, who said, “If you don’t like it, don’t look at it. Go in the back door.”

Sure! No problem! And while you’re slipping in through the back door you should also wear a button reading “Second-Class Citizen.”

And yet all of this is unnecessary. If a county really wants to educate its citizens about the law, there are ways to do it that don’t run afoul of the First Amendment. They could, for example, erect a display that discusses all of the many sources that inform American law.

But that’s not what these folks want to do. They want to endorse religion. (It doesn’t help that the words “LOVE GOD AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS” are chiseled onto the base of the six-ton monument.) They want to point at the Ten Commandments and say, “This is the sole source of our law.” Not only is that unconstitutional, it’s historically inaccurate.

In Dixie County, a court has put a stop to it. County officials should give up and get back to the secular business they were hired to do – stuff like setting the tax rate, providing municipal services and so on.

As I said, this is a bad movie. We don’t need another sequel.