AU Applauds Decision Striking Down Ohio Judge’s Ten Commandments Display

Courts Should Provide Equal Justice For All, Not Promote Religious Law, Says AU’s Lynn

A federal appeals court made the right call in requiring a state judge in Ohio to remove a Ten Commandments display from his courtroom, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that James DeWeese, a judge of the Richland County Court of Common Pleas, ran afoul of the Constitution when he put up a display entitled “Philosophies of Law in Conflict” that contrasted the “Moral Absolutes” of the Ten Commandments with the “Moral Relatives” of humanism.

“Judge DeWeese was improperly promoting his personal religious beliefs in his courtroom, and I’m glad the appeals court put a stop to it,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

Added Lynn, “Our courts are supposed to provide equal justice for all, not promote religious law. Judges should never send the message that some religious traditions have a preferred place in the courtroom.”

The case goes back to 2000, when DeWeese hung a poster of the Ten Commandments opposite a poster of the Bill of Rights, presenting each as “the rule of law.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sued and won. In response, DeWeese created the new display. The ACLU sued over that as well.

Ruling in American Civil Liberties Union v. James DeWeese, the appeals court determined that DeWeese sought to endorse religion through his actions.

“[T]he poster in this case is not merely a display of the Ten Commandments in Defendant’s courtroom,” wrote Judge Eric L. Clay for the unanimous three-judge panel. “It sets forth overt religious messages and religious endorsements. It is a display of the Ten Commandments editorialized by Defendant, a judge in an Ohio state court, exhorting a return to ‘moral absolutes’ which Defendant himself defines as the principles of the ‘God of the Bible.’ The poster is an explicit endorsement of religion by Defendant….”

DeWeese was represented in court by TV preacher Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice.

Last year, Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the appeals court to stop DeWeese from promoting religion in his courtroom. (The brief was joined by The Interfaith Alliance, the Anti-Defamation League, the Hindu American Foundation and the Union for Reform Judaism.)

In addition, Americans United pointed out on its website that DeWeese has been affiliated with Christian Reconstructionism, the most extreme manifestation of the Religious Right. Reconstructionists believe in imposing “biblical law” on America based on the legal code of the Old Testament.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.