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Saturday, November 01, 2003  

Law: Georgians impose Ten Commandments on public

Have I ever mentioned that sometimes I just don't understand people? One of the kinds of situations I don't understand them in is when there is a workable solution to a problem, but they choose to ignore it. The bumbling, often mean-spirited nature of homo sapiens means he often doesn't make any real effort to solve problems. So, when a resolution has been reached, why do some folks try to destroy it? I'm wondering about this after reading about a situation in Georgia. The far Right Christian organization Focus on the Family described the what is occurring there in a press release.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Oct. 30 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The pastors of Georgia's Cherokee County, along with concerned citizens, will present a plaque of the Ten Commandments to the county commissioners for display in the Cherokee County Justice Center during a rally in support of the Commandments. The event will be at noon Friday, Oct. 31, on the steps of the Justice Center in downtown Canton, Ga.

"We were motivated to make this request when we became aware of a recently enacted, but little known, Georgia law that encourages the public display and study of those documents which have substantially impacted Georgia's law and heritage," said Dan Becker, pastor of Little River Church in Union Hill, Ga., and organizer of Friday's rally. "There can be no doubt of the historical impact of the moral law of God upon our own laws and culture.

"They're mounting the Ten Commandments in a rotunda area where they plan on putting other historical documents, but the significance here is that the Ten Commandments will be mounted higher than anything else. These commissioners are intending to make a statement."

The rally will feature the presentation of two tablets of granite engraved with the Decalogue in King James English to the five county commissioners by Becker and other pastors. The commissioners will then affix the tablets to the Justice Center and sign a petition stating their intent to defend the right of the people to publicly display the Ten Commandments.

The dispute, a copycat case modeled on the Ten Commandments imbroglio in Alabama, began in Habersham County and is spreading to other Georgia counties as conservative public officials jump on the bandwagon.

The fate of a Ten Commandments display in Habersham County will be in limbo for a few more weeks. It will be at least that long until U.S. District Court Judge William O'Kelley rules on whether or not the plaque must come down from the Habersham courthouse and indoor swimming pool.

O'Kelley heard arguments Monday at the federal courthouse in Gainesville in a case that could have far-reaching effects on similar situations in Northeast Georgia.

"This is a serious and important issue, and it needs to be considered," O'Kelley told the courtroom before adjourning shortly before 4 p.m.

Plaintiffs Charles "Bo" Turner and Gregg Holder, both Habersham residents, want the commandments removed from the government buildings. Both say the display violates the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause.

The constitutional law in regard to displays of religious symbols on public property is reasonable and clear. People are free to display symbols that are mainly secular or, if religious, don't favor a particular religion, with the judicial branch ultimately deciding whether a symbol is acceptable. If anything, the law leans over backward in regard to Christianity because many symbols now considered secular have Christian origins. However, that it is not enough to placate folks who want the United States to be an officially Christian nation. Nothing short of complete capitulation will do for them. The symbols of their religion must be displayed in public buildings.

Such displays violate the Establishment Clause because government gives religion its imprimatur if it allows the installation of religious iconography in public buildings. This is settled law. However, in one of those maneuvers that conservative Southerners are well-versed in because of their long opposition to civil rights laws, the supporters of establishing Christianity as our official religion have decided to use the interposition argument.

The Habersham County Commission passed a resolution in May 2002 to display the commandments. After being sued, the board passed another resolution last August that allowed the commandments to be posted alongside other key historical documents.

Defense attorneys Douglas McDonald, Erik Stanley and Donald Cronin argued that by including the commandments with the Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact and Star-Spangled Banner, the display is constitutional.

They also say the commandments are the moral basis of U.S. law.

"Habersham County isn't making a religious statement," Stanley said during closing arguments. "The theme is that the 10 Commandments played a role in the foundation of American law and government."

This legal chicanery last appeared during efforts to prevent racial integration of Southern schools and other other public accommodations. Southern cities, counties and states passed statutes they said trumped federal laws that required ending discrimination against nonwhite Americans and allowing them access to public and quasi-public institutions. The laws passed by Habersham County and likely to be mimicked by other counties are similar. They attempt to allow a practice illegal under the federal constitution by 'interposing' local law. Both the time of the passage of the 'historical documents' resolution and the reason why it was considered prove it to be a pretext to impose Christianity on the citizens of the county.

These efforts will fail. No one, other than fellow travelers, will take the legal arguments of the counties seriously. But, citizens in those counties will pour thousands of dollars into defending the unconstitutional actions of their public officials. In fact, a county has already engaged the same lawyer who got his clock cleaned in the Alabama showdown.

Barrow County officials have hired a well-known attorney to defend their Ten Commandments display.

County commissioners hired attorney Herb Titus to defend the county against a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, which wants a framed parchment copy of the Ten Commandments removed from the county courthouse.

Titus is a Virginia Beach, Va., attorney who worked on the defense team of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was suspended after refusing to obey a federal judges order to remove a 5,000-pound Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.

A group formed for the countys legal defense, Ten Commandments-Georgia Inc., presented the commission with a $50,000 check -- the price needed for Titus retainer.

Taxpayers in the county could be liable for additional payment to Titus if private fund-raising efforts come up short, said Chairman Eddie Elder.

Meanwhile, the real needs of the citizens of these counties will continue to go unmet. For example, Georgia ranks lowest in national measures of educational attainment, mainly because public education there is underfunded. I don't understand why the people of such areas allow their elected officials to get away with shenanigans of this sort.

6:31 PM