Federal Court Says Religious Monument At Oklahoma Courthouse Is Unconstitutional

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Will Matthews, ACLU National, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org

Federal Court Says Religious Monument At Oklahoma Courthouse Is Unconstitutional

Ten Commandments Monument An Endorsement Of Religion

DENVER - A
unanimous federal appeals court yesterday ruled that county
commissioners in Haskell County, Oklahoma unconstitutionally sought to
promote their personal religious beliefs by erecting a Ten Commandments
monument on the front lawn of the county's courthouse. The decision by
the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals comes in a challenge filed by
the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma on behalf
of a local resident.

"This decision is a victory for the
cherished American value of religious freedom," said Daniel Mach,
Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and
Belief. "The government should not be in the business of promoting
religious viewpoints. In our country, people should be free to express
their faith – or to exercise their right to hold no belief at all –
without government interference or favoritism."

In its decision, the court ruled
that the monument violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S.
Constitution because a "reasonable observer would view the monument as
having the impermissible principal or primary effect of endorsing
religion." The monument is unconstitutional, the court ruled, because
the proposal to erect the monument, its approval by the Haskell County
Board of Commissioners, and the commissioners' expressly religious
defense of the monument "strongly reflect a government endorsement of
religion." 

"This is a significant ruling for
the citizens of Oklahoma," said Joann Bell, Executive Director of the
ACLU of Oklahoma. "Religion should not be something that should be
allowed to divide the citizens of this state, which is what happens
when the government endorses one particular set of religious beliefs.
All Oklahomans, of all creeds – and not just the beliefs of those in
power – should feel welcome at the county courthouse."

The ACLU and the ACLU of Oklahoma
filed a lawsuit challenging the display of the monument in October
2005, a little over a year after a Haskell County lay minister, who
said "the Lord had burdened his heart" about having a Ten Commandments
monument placed on the courthouse lawn, received permission from the
Haskell County Board of Commissioners to build it.

Several days after the monument was
put up, a dedication ceremony was held that included opening and
closing prayers and remarks from several local pastors who talked about
the religious significance of the monument. And in the months following
the dedication ceremony, members of the Haskell County Board of
Commissioners spoke frequently, publicly and often in expressly
religious terms in defense of the monument, including statements like
"That's what we're going to live by, that right there…The good Lord
died for me. I can stand for him, and I'm going to."

The U.S. District Court for the
Eastern District of Oklahoma ruled against the plaintiffs in August
2006, prompting an appeal to the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

A copy of yesterday's ruling is available online at: www.aclu.org/religion/public/39784lgl20090608.html

Additional information about the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief is available online at: www.aclu.org/religion

Additional information about the ACLU of Oklahoma is available online at: www.acluok.org

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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