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Ban on judge's Ten Commandments poster stands as Supreme Court declines case

A federal judge and a US appeals court ruled previously that the judge's poster, expressing preference for the moral absolutism of the Ten Commandments, violated previous Supreme Court rulings on the separation of church and state.

By Staff writer / October 3, 2011


The US Supreme Court declined Monday to take up a case examining whether an Ohio judge violated the separation of church and state when he displayed a poster in his courtroom that contrasted the Ten Commandments with humanist precepts.

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By declining the case, the court let stand rulings that found that the judge had indeed violated the church-state principle.

Ohio Common Pleas Court Judge James DeWeese had labeled the poster “Philosophies of Law in Conflict” and included personal commentary.

He declared his preference for the moral absolutism of the Ten Commandments [forbidding murder, theft, adultery, etc.] rather than what he called the moral relativism of humanists.

“The cases passing through this courtroom demonstrate we are paying a high cost in increased crime and other social ills for moving from moral absolutism [like the Ten Commandments] to moral relativism [favored by humanists]…. Our Founders saw the necessity of moral absolutes,” Judge DeWeese is quoted on the poster.

He added: “I join the Founders in personally acknowledging the importance of Almighty God’s fixed moral standards for restoring the moral fabric of this nation.”

Concerned that the judge was attempting to use his public courtroom as a pulpit, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed suit asking a federal judge to declare the display a violation of the First Amendment’s bar on government establishment and endorsement of religion.

Judge DeWeese defended the display as an attempt to express his views about the consequences of the country abandoning its religious heritage and moving toward a moral relativist philosophy and away from a moral absolutist legal philosophy.

Both a federal judge and a panel of the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that DeWeese’s poster crossed the line drawn by the Supreme Court separating church and state.

In a decision handed down in February, the Sixth Circuit noted that that Judge DeWeese had been ordered in 2000 to remove a poster of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom wall. That display was also ruled a violation of the separation of church and state.

To survive this second challenge, the judge would have to have demonstrated that the new poster had a secular purpose – that it wasn’t intended to teach or promote a religious message.


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