Friday, April 27, 2007


And I Thought I Was Kidding!

A while back I noted that the Dixie County, Florida Board of Commissioners had decided to drink the Righteous Right's Kool-Aid and fight an ACLU lawsuit demanding removal of a monument to the Ten Commandments that had been placed, by itself, at the top of steps attached to the county courthouse and directly under the "County" in a large sign on the building that reads "Dixie County Courthouse."

I then noted that in order to have a more blatant endorsement of a particular religious tradition by a government, "it would have to involve flashing neon lights."

I thought I was being facetious but little did I know that Harris County, Texas had beaten me to the punch. As described in the decision of the three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a monument to a gentleman named William S. Mosher was erected, by a private organization, on County property facing the County courthouse, in memory of Mr. Mosher's charitable work. The rub was that a glass-covered case within the monument contained an open Bible. The Bible was apparently intended to memorialize Mosher’s Christian faith, although the monument contains no written explanation for the presence of the Bible. Then, as the Circuit Court explains:

The monument was vandalized several times and the Bible stolen. Star of Hope [the private organization] replaced it each time. In 1988, atheists complained about the Bible to the Harris County Commissioners Court and asked that it be removed. Although the evidence on this point is not entirely clear, it appears that Star of Hope decided either to remove the Bible or not to replace it again, rather than face potentially costly litigation. From 1988 to 1995, the top of the monument remained open and empty, and it was often used as a trash bin.

In 1995, a man by the name of John Devine (you can't make this stuff up!) ran for and was elected to a state district judgeship, running on a platform of "putting Christianity back into government." Immediately, the judge and his court reporter, Karen Friend (!):

… initiated a project to solicit private donations to refurbish the monument, to restore a Bible to the display case, and to add neon lighting to the display case. Judge Devine obtained approval from Harris County, and made improvements to the monument, including the new Bible and a red neon light outlining the Bible.

It has long been known that, as Alan Morgan once said in "Any sufficiently advanced parody is indistinguishable from a genuine kook." It seems that it goes for the Religious Right as well.

The rest of the sorry tale is interesting too. A lawyer and atheist sued and the Federal District Court found in her favor, ordering the removal of the Bible (though, presumably, the monument could stay) and awarding her over $40,000 in attorney's fees. An appeal was taken and upheld by the three judge panel in the decision linked to above. A further appeal to the full Circuit Court was granted. Just a few days before the scheduled oral arguments, the County removed the monument, supposedly as part of renovations that had been going on for some time. The County then argued the case was "moot" because the monument was no longer on the County's property and that the lower court decision should be vacated. The full court did find the case to be moot but would not vacate the lower court decision.
While not accusing the County of any wrongdoing in removing the monument at the last minute, the full court gave little consideration to the notion that the plaintiff would have to start over from scratch when and if the County made up its mind what to do with the monument. If it is put back on County property, the plaintiff can move in the District Court to enforce its prior order and if that court decides that the circumstances of the new placement are substantially similar, the court will enforce that order. The plaintiff got her $40,000 too.

But don't you just love how honest and above-board everything is when you are dealing with people who so loudly profess their belief in the Bible?
Via Red State Rabble.

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