Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia v. Chester County

AU's Role: 
AU's Involvement Began: 
December 2002
Status: 

The plaintiffs challenged a Ten Commandments plaque outside the Chester County Courthouse. The district court ordered the plaque’s removal. On appeal, we submitted an amicus brief to the Third Circuit in December 2002, informing the court that the plaque was erected as part of a religious campaign spearheaded by a religious group known as the International Reform Bureau. We argued that singling out the Ten Commandments for display on a courthouse, while disregarding all of the other documents that have influenced American law, sends a religious message. We also argued that the court should place no emphasis on the fact that the plaque has been in place for a long time, because this is likely due to the fact that challengers have been reluctant to come forward out of fear of hostility. Oral argument took place in April 2003. On June 26, 2003, the Third Circuit found the plaque constitutional, reasoning that while it may have been erected with a religious purpose and effect, it was being retained by the County with the secular purpose and effect of preserving a longstanding historical relic. The plaintiffs sought rehearing en banc and we filed an amicus brief in support of the request on July 31, 2003, but the motion was denied. The plaintiffs did not seek certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court.

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