Federal Judge Orders Bible Display Removed

( [email protected] ) Aug 11, 2004 11:45 AM EDT

A federal court judge ruled on August 10 that a Bible on display in front of a Harris County courthouse in Houston, Tx., violates the constitutional separation of church and state and ordered it removed within 10 days.

Federal Judge Sim Lake said that the Bible in the monument has no secular purpose and advances religion.

"The court concludes that the purpose of the Bible display is to encourage people to read the Bible,” he wrote.

"What other purpose could there be for prominently displaying an open Bible in an illuminated case tilted toward passers-by in a heavily frequented plaza in front of the main entrance to the courthouse?"

County Judge Robert Eckels said he would appeal the ruling after reviewing it with County Attorney Mike Stafford to discuss strategies.

"I think they'll support it," Eckels said. "I think the point needs to be made that a monument to an individual is different from a religious display.”

Lake ruled that the Bible must be removed but allowed the 4-foot display case to stay.

Eckels believe the entire monument to stay at its current spot inspite of considerations to move it to other locations.

"It's a historic monument that has been there half a century," he said.

The monument was built with private donations to honor the memory of philanthropist William S. Mosher for his donations to the Star of Hope Mission, according to Assistant County Attorney Frank Sanders.

In a 2002 case, a federal court ordered Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, to remove a 5,280-pound granite monument to the Ten Commandments that he had installed in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. Moore refused and was later suspended from office by fellow court members. The monument was also removed.

Kay Staley, a real estate broker and attorney, who filed the lawsuit to remove the Mosher monument, explained why she sued. “Because I wanted everyone in this city, with whatever religious beliefs, to be respected."

Randall Kallinen, the new president of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, represented Staley, who used to work for the Atlanta-chapter of the liberal legal group in the 1960s.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake also ordered the county to pay $36,810 in attorney fees and $3,776 in court costs, as federal law provides in civil rights cases, according to the Associated Press.

Former state District Judge John Devine, who is heading a drive to restore the monument from its dilapidated state, responded to Lake’s argument that the Bible would give others an impression that Christianity is the general religion of Harris County by saying, "The Bible is a book of three faiths," which are Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

"The president of the United States is sworn in on a Bible. The judge himself is sworn in," Devine said.

"The First Amendment says Congress shall not establish a religion or prevent the free exercise thereof," he said. "I can't see how the display of a Bible violates the establishment clause and establishes a religion."