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Houston - Bible must be removed

 
 
nimh
 
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Reply Sat 15 Jan, 2005 12:48 pm
edgarblythe wrote:
I don't know how to further address the intolerance for non Christians being expressed by some on this thread.

Great. So now those who disagree with you on whether to remove this monument or not are "expressing intolerance for non Christians". Man, I've never even read the Bible, I'm as atheistic as you can get. But don't let that get in the way of insisting the issue is a seculars vs fundamentalist Christians one ...
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edgarblythe
 
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Reply Sat 15 Jan, 2005 03:01 pm
Perhaps in many cases not so much intolerance as inability to connect to the reasoning behind the move to take the monuments down. But there are many who do exhibit said intolerance. A columnist in our local paper said once, "We outnumber non Christians. We ought to just do it anyway." - referring to prayers in school, monuments, etc.
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Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 2 Mar, 2005 01:18 pm
(Sorry for jumping in late.) Does any of you know what other exhibits they have on display around the Houston Supreme Court? I am asking because I think the constitutionality of this depends a lot on such context. For example, I hear that the United States Supreme Court building features about 25 landmarks in the history of the law. They begin with the codes of Hammurabi and Solon and culminate in the Declaration of independence and the US constitution. Somewhere in between, there is also a statue of Moses carrying the tablet of stone with the ten commandments on it.

If things in Houston looked similar to this, I would find that perfectly unproblematic. It is appropriate for a court to have a 'history of law' exhibit, and it is appropriate for such an exhibit to acknowledge that religious ideas and institutions made important contributions during that history. On the other hand, if there was an entrance gate with Moses' right foot placed on one pillar, his left foot on the other; if each entrant had to walk through beneath Moses, and if there were no other statues of secular or religious law-givers -- that would be just as obviously in-appropriate.

Can someone here shed light on this? What are the other exhibits in that park around the Houston Supreme Court?
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Wed 2 Mar, 2005 01:52 pm
Thomas wrote:
(Sorry for jumping in late.) Does any of you know what other exhibits they have on display around the Houston Supreme Court? I am asking because I think the constitutionality of this depends a lot on such context. For example, I hear that the United States Supreme Court building features about 25 landmarks in the history of the law. They begin with the codes of Hammurabi and Solon and culminate in the Declaration of independence and the US constitution. Somewhere in between, there is also a statue of Moses carrying the tablet of stone with the ten commandments on it.

Not quite. Moses is depicted twice on the Supreme Court building: on the eastern pediment and in an allegorical frieze in the courtroom. On the pediment, Moses is shown holding blank tablets. In the frieze, Moses is holding one tablet which contains portions of commandments 6-10 in Hebrew. For photos of these, click here.

Obviously, showing Moses holding either blank or incomplete, foreign-language tablets in the company of other notable (and notably non-Christian) lawgivers is far different from displaying the entire text of the Ten Commandments, in English, in a public place.

Thomas wrote:
If things in Houston looked similar to this, I would find that perfectly unproblematic. It is appropriate for a court to have a 'history of law' exhibit, and it is appropriate for such an exhibit to acknowledge that religious ideas and institutions made important contributions during that history. On the other hand, if there was an entrance gate with Moses' right foot placed on one pillar, his left foot on the other; if each entrant had to walk through beneath Moses, and if there were no other statues of secular or religious law-givers -- that would be just as obviously in-appropriate.

Can someone here shed light on this? What are the other exhibits in that park around the Houston Supreme Court?

I believe that the Texas case involves a monument on the grounds of the courthouse: there were no other exhibits around it.
http://www.tspb.state.tx.us/spb/gallery/MonuList/Images/ten_commandments.jpg
The Kentucky case involved a display of the Ten Commandments amidst other legal and historical documents:
    Framed copies of the Ten Commandments were hung alone in courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski counties. After the ACLU of Kentucky challenged the displays, historical documents -- eventually including the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Magna Carta -- were added. A panel of the Sixth Circuit still called for removal of the Ten Commandments from the displays in a 2-1 decision in December 2003.
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Thomas
 
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Reply Wed 2 Mar, 2005 02:26 pm
Thank you, Joe! It seems like the Houston case is pretty obvious. The Kentucky case could be closer, depending on whether the modifications made the pictures First Amendment-proof.
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edgarblythe
 
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Reply Wed 2 Mar, 2005 04:05 pm
Around June the Supreme Court will shed a little more light on the subject.
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Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Mar, 2005 07:11 am
joefromchicago wrote:
I believe that the Texas case involves a monument on the grounds of the courthouse: there were no other exhibits around it.

It appears you were mistaken about this. I just surfed across a site that gives you a tour of the campus around the Houston capitol. It turns out that the "Ten Commandments" monument is one out of 17, and the general theme of the monuments appears to be vaguely along the lines of "Things that have mattered to the people of Texas". The ten commandments don't matter to me, so personally I would have left that particular monument out of the campus.

On the other hand, I don't think Texas has established a religion by putting it in. I hear (but I can't find the case) that in an earlier Supreme Court judgment, justice O'Connor established as a test for religious establishment whether the exhibit in question would make a non-believer feel excluded. The test makes sense to me, and I am an atheist, so I tried it on myself. Looking at the total of those monuments doesn't make me feel excluded for my atheism at all. So the O'Connor test, applied to my personal reaction to the exhibit, yields that this monument is not a First Amendment violation.
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Debra Law
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Mar, 2005 12:00 pm
Thomas:

You are taking a subjective view; whereas the O'Connor test requires an objective view using the hypothetical "reasonable person" standard.

The state capitol grounds are expansive constituting 22 acres. Over the years, many monuments have been placed on the grounds. Each monument has its own independent significance.

This particular monument was donated by the Fraternal Order of the Eagles to the State of Texas. The Eagles were given permission to erect a monument "to recognize and commend a private organization for its efforts to reduce juvenile delinquency."

It is difficult to understand the relationship between the Ten Commandments monument that declares in large letters "I AM the LORD thy GOD" with the Eagles' work with juvenile delinquents. In a similar case, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Kentucky law that required the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public schools.

The issue presented to the United States Supreme Court is:

Whether a large monument, 6 feet high and 3 feet wide, presenting the Ten Commandments, located on government property between the Texas State Capitol and the Texas Supreme Court, is an impermissible establishment of religion in violation of the 1st Amendment?

Accordingly, if we apply O'Connor's test, we have to ask whether an objectively reasonable person could view the monument and believe that the monument is NOT an endorsement of religion.

Could the hypothetical objective reasonable person say, "Gee . . . I don't see this as an endorsement of religion . . . I see this as a monument to a private organization to show state appreciation for its work with juvenile delinquents." I think that's quite a stretch of the imagination.

As with the Kentucky case, I'm pretty sure that the U.S. Supreme Court will find that no stated secular purpose can displace the obviously religious nature of the monument.

"The pre-eminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact."

http://laws.findlaw.com/us/449/39.html
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Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 16 Mar, 2005 03:40 am
Debra_Law wrote:
You are taking a subjective view; whereas the O'Connor test requires an objective view using the hypothetical "reasonable person" standard.

Maybe so. But I don't have access to a computer simulation of a hypothetical "reasonable person", and I can't read the Supreme Court justices' minds as to what they expect a "reasonable person" to think. But, being a (hopefully) reasonable non-believer myself, I can apply the test subjectively and expect its result to mean something -- not to be authoritative in any way, but to mean something.

On a slightly different note, I think I managed to find the test Justice O'Connors suggested. It seems that you and I were picking up a mutated quote of a mutated quote of a mutated quote, which bears only a family resemblance to what O'Connors' original opinion actually said. The case is LYNCH v. DONNELLY, 465 U.S. 668 (1984)

Justice O'Connor, concurring in Lynch v. Donnelly, wrote:
The Establishment Clause prohibits government from making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community. Government can run afoul of that prohibition in two principal ways. One is excessive entanglement with religious institutions, which may interfere with the independence of the institutions, give the institutions access to government or governmental powers not fully shared by nonadherents of the religion, and foster the creation of political constituencies defined along religious lines. The second and more direct infringement is government endorsement or disapproval of religion. Endorsement sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community. Disapproval sends the opposite message.

(several references to precedents omitted, Thomas)

This atheist, looking at the monuments on that campus, does not receive a message that he is "an outsider, not a full member of the political community". I am sure there are atheists more cranky, more eager to nitpick, and more easily offended than myself, and it's possible that they would say they are receiving such a message. But it isn't unconstitutional to offend cranky, nitpicking, easily offended people -- thank Jefferson! -- and in my opinion, feeling excluded by this exhibit requires a level of crankiness (...) too high to trigger a 1st Amendment prohibition.
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Debra Law
 
  1  
Reply Wed 16 Mar, 2005 12:51 pm
ALLEGHENY COUNTY v. GREATER PITTSBURGH ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989)

Justice O'Connor wrote:
In my concurrence in Lynch, I suggested a clarification of our Establishment Clause doctrine to reinforce the concept that the Establishment Clause "prohibits government from making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community." Id., at 687. The government violates this prohibition if it endorses or disapproves of religion. Id., at 688. . . .

In Lynch, I concluded that the city's display of a creche in its larger holiday exhibit in a private park in the commercial district had neither the purpose nor the effect of conveying a message of government endorsement of Christianity or disapproval of other religions. The purpose of including the creche in the larger display was to celebrate the public holiday through its traditional symbols, not to promote the religious content of the creche. Id., at 691. Nor, in my view, did Pawtucket's display of the creche along with secular symbols of the Christmas holiday objectively convey a message of endorsement of Christianity. Id., at 692. . . .

Similarly, the celebration of Thanksgiving as a public holiday, despite its religious origins, is now generally understood as a celebration of patriotic values rather than particular religious beliefs. The question under endorsement analysis, in short, is whether a reasonable observer would view such longstanding practices as a disapproval of his or her particular religious choices, in light of the fact that they serve a secular purpose rather than a sectarian one and have largely lost their religious significance over time.


The endorsement test embodies the objective reasonable person standard.

Accordingly, under the endorsement test, we have to ask whether a reasonable [objective] person would observe the six-foot monument to the Ten Commandments on the state capitol grounds and view the monument as state approval or disapproval of religion.

Twenty-five years ago, the United States Supreme Court held the following:

Quote:
The pre-eminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, 3 and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact.


STONE v. GRAHAM, 449 U.S. 39 (1980)

The State of Texax accepted the monument of the Ten Commandments and placed it on its capitol grounds for the purported "secular" purpose of recognizing and honoring a private organization's work with juvenile delinquents. However, no recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to the fact that the Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred religious text. The Ten Commandments have not lost their religious significance over time. An objectively reasonable person could observe the monumental display of the Ten Commandments on public grounds and believe that the monument is government endorsement of religion.

The fact that there may be other monuments speckled across the expansive grounds of the state capitol grounds means nothing. Nothing in the CONTEXT of the six-foot monumental display detracts from its religious message.
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Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 16 Mar, 2005 01:10 pm
Debra_Law wrote:
The question under endorsement analysis, in short, is whether a reasonable observer would view such longstanding practices as a disapproval of his or her particular religious choices,

Works for me. And in my opinion, only an unreasonable heckler, but not a reasonable observer, would regard this particular exhibit as a disapproval of his or her religious choices, especially to the point of the government "making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community." And we can't give every heckler, atheist or not, a right to veto what everybody else can do.

(PS: Thanks for finding the case where the "reasonable observer" entered the O'Connor test!)

(PPS: I just surfed into a transcript of the oral argument. Interesting read!)
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Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Jun, 2005 10:30 am
The Supreme Court's decision is out. It rules 5:4 against the Kentucky display, 5:4 for the Houston display, Sandra Day O'Connor being the swing vote.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/27/AR2005062700416.html
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Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Jun, 2005 10:46 am
Oops: The news that O'Connor was the swing vote seems "too good to check"; it's what everybody expects. But on reading the judgments (Houston, Kentucky), it seems the swing vote was actually Breyer, who concurred in judgment with the conservative side in the Texas case. Another great left vs. right story mugged by reality .....
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edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 16 Aug, 2006 04:49 am
Aug. 16, 2006, 2:01AM
Court: Bible display must go
Ruling finds Harris County monument's initial purpose was changed


By HARVEY RICE and BILL MURPHY
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

A Bible must be removed from a 50-year-old monument in front of the Harris County civil courthouse because a district judge changed it from a secular to a religious use in violation of the Constitution, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

"Its recent history would force an objective observer to conclude that it is a religious symbol of a particular faith located on public grounds," a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 2-1 decision.

Although secular in purpose when it was erected in front of the old civil courthouse in 1956, former state District Judge John Devine and his court reporter, Karen Friend, changed the character of the monument when they refurbished it in 1995, the majority said in a 24-page opinion.

The opinion upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake in August 2004 that the monument is an unconstitutional promotion of religion by government. The 5th Circuit Court opinion is at www.ca5.uscourts.gov online.

Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith disagreed with the opinion by Judges E. Grady Jolly and Patrick E. Higginbotham, writing in his 15-page dissent that, "The panel majority exhibits an appalling hostility to any hint of religion in public spaces."

Smith disagreed that Devine changed the monument to a religious purpose, saying the judge intended only to "restore that monument to its former glory."


County's next step
Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford said the county has the option of appealing the decision to all 19 members of the 5th Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.


The county will likely ask for an en banc review by the entire 5th Circuit, he said. He said the county's chances of prevailing before the Supreme Court are also good.

"I don't think that the monument's essential nature can morph into something unconstitutional," Stafford said.

Kay Staley, an attorney and real estate broker who successfully sued the county over the Bible's presence, said, "I'm delighted they upheld the Constitution.

"It says we are a country of many religions, and the government should not be promoting one over another," Staley said. "We are not a Christian nation. We are a nation of many religions or no religion."

In his decision, Lake also ordered the county to pay Staley $40,000 in attorney's fees and expenses.

Randall Kallinen, Staley's lawyer, noted that all three judges on the panel were appointed by Republican presidents. "The most conservative appeals court in the United States believes the monument is a violation of the establishment clause and the First Amendment," he said.

Kallinen assailed Stafford and County Judge Robert Eckels for saying that the county would appeal, saying it was an effort to appeal to the far right.

"This is a fundraiser for them," he said of the local officials. "But it's really a waste of taxpayers' money."

The 4-foot-5 monument was erected in 1956 to honor Houston businessman and philanthropist William S. Mosher. A Bible was displayed in a sloping glass case on top of the display.


Changing the display

Jolly, writing for the majority, said that the original purpose of honoring Mosher was secular, but that purpose was changed in 1995 when Devine and Friend placed a neon light inside the monument to outline the Bible.

Devine had campaigned on a platform of putting Christianity back into government and had Christian ministers lead prayers at the rededication ceremony for the monument, the opinion said.

The monument became a rallying point for religious demonstrations after Staley filed her lawsuit in 2003. One was attended by Eckels, Devine and Stafford, who spoke and prayed with Christian ministers, Jolly said.

The Star of Hope Mission maintained the monument until 1988, replacing the Bible several times after it was stolen. The monument was empty from 1988 until 1995.

The mission has resumed maintenance of the monument, although the county pays for electricity for the neon light, $93.16 per year, Jolly said.

harvey.rice
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