May 2008 Church & State | People & Events

A Ten Commandments monument on public property in Everett, Wash., does not violate the Constitution and may stay where it is, a federal appeals court ruled March 26.

Americans United brought the case on behalf of local resident Jesse Card. In court, AU argued that the six-foot-tall stone monument listing the Ten Commandments sends a message of government endorsement of religion.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The court found that the monument, which sits near an old city hall building now used as a police station, did not have a solely religious purpose, noting that religious services have not been held near it.

“Nothing about the setting is conducive to genuflection,” wrote Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw for the unanimous three-judge panel.

Wardlaw went on to point out that the monument is not lighted at night, and that there is no place to sit near it. Furthermore, it is surrounded by trees that make it hard to see from a distance. Lastly, Wardlaw stated, no one had complained about the monument for 30 years.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on two cases dealing with Commandments displays. In one of them, a court majority ruled that an old display in Austin, Texas, could stay. The 9th Circuit relied heavily on that ruling in deciding the Everett controversy. (Card v. City of Everett)

The Everett monument was donated in 1959 by the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, which distributed similar monuments to communities around the country.

“Religious items displayed by themselves are generally impermissible,” Ayesha N. Khan, legal director of Americans United, told Reuters news service. “This monument stands pretty much alone, and in that context, it presents a religious message.”

AU also asserted that the type of vegetation around the monument and the fact that no one complained about it for many years should be irrelevant.