On Tuesday, August 24, a federal appeals court blocked a judge’s order to remove a Bible monument from outside a courthouse in Texas. The ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals essentially blocked a Monday decision to remove the monument by Tuesday night, but did not address the merits of the case.
On Monday, the U.S. District Judge Sim Lake ruled in favor of Kay Staley, a real estate broker and lawyer who argued that the public display of the bible violated the constitutional clause on the separation of church and state.
Staley, a non Christian, said the display was ‘offensive’ and ‘improperly advanced Christianity,’ ultimately sending “a message to her and to non-Christians that they are not full members of the Houston political community."
Staley sued the Harris County last August, during which the controversy on the Ten Commandments Monument in the Alabama Courthouse rotunda was at its height. In the Alabama ruling, the Ten Commandments monument lost out, and ultimately both the monument and the district judge who erected the monument were kicked out of the courthouse.
In Harris county, Lake made his initial ruling in favor of Staley on August 10, nearly a year after the case was filed. Lake’s July 23 ruling reinforced his initial decision in monetary terms: the county was to award $43,961 to compensate Staley. Lake also denied an emergency request by the county to allow the display to remain until all appeals are exhausted.
"The fact that the county has violated the plaintiff's rights for years does not mean that the violation should be allowed to continue," Lake wrote.
On Tuesday, however, the three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled oppositely, saying the Bible can stay in the monument until all appeals are exhausted.
"Very often these cases go to the United States Supreme Court and as Judge Lake wrote in his opinion, unfortunately we don't have coherent guidance from the Supreme Court," said Harris County Attorney Michael Stafford. "We will go as far as we need to in order to get clear guidance for the county commissioners."
A Christian homeless charity group called the Star of Hope originally erected the Bible monument in 1956 to honor industrialist William Mosher for his contributions to the ministry.
According to officials at the Star of Hope, the Bible was chosen for the monument to symbolize Mosher’s Christian faith. In 1995, vandals stole the Bible, but soon after, a county judge restored the monument and replaced the bible through private donations.
In the ongoing case, the county holds that the display is a private expression of free speech by the Star of Hope, and should not be taken down.
A federal appeals court Tuesday blocked a judge's order to remove a Bible from a monument outside a Harris County courthouse.
The county argued the display outside the civil courthouse in downtown Houston was a private expression of free speech by the Star of Hope, a homeless mission, and the county should not be held responsible for its contents.