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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.

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The appeals court said in light of DeWeese’s earlier poster “the history of [the judge’s] actions demonstrates that any purported secular purpose is a sham.”

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In his brief on behalf of DeWeese urging the high court to take up the case, Jay Sekulow said the appeals court had impermissibly used the prior Ten Commandments case as the determinative factor in deciding the constitutionality of the second poster five years later.

“The court below held that DeWeese’s past actions were enough to demonstrate that any secular purpose behind his philosophy poster was a ‘sham,’ ” Mr. Sekulow wrote. “The Sixth Circuit’s position is crystal clear: once tainted, always tainted.”

Sekulow said a government official’s affirmation of moral absolutes – like the Ten Commandments – does not constitute an impermissible endorsement of religion.

“DeWeese’s statement that he agrees with the Founders in grounding morality in a divine source is no more an establishment of religion than what this Court itself has recognized regarding the historical and symbiotic role between religion and government,” Sekulow said.

Michael Honohan of the ACLU disagreed. “The poster in this case is so clearly religious on its face that a reading of the poster alone would justify a finding of a violation of the Establishment Clause,” he said in his brief.

Honohan said the judge’s poster forces members of the public who may be required to be present in his courtroom to confront a religious message with which they may disagree.

The case was similar to the court’s decision to bar the offering of a prayer at a public high school graduation, the lawyer said.

“The distinction between merely presenting examples of historical views on the source of law, and advocating a position that all law comes from God and that society suffers when people abandon what DeWeese terms ‘moral absolutism,’ is of course a crucial distinction in determining whether the poster in question is a religious one. But it is a distinction which seems to escape Judge DeWeese,” Honohan wrote.

He said the judge’s attempt to explain the meaning and purpose of the poster only exacerbated the problem by adding a clear religious viewpoint to the display.

The case was Hon. James DeWeese v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation (10-1512).

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