After a three-month recess, the Supreme Court returned on Monday to start a new term, rejecting hundreds of cases, including an appeal by an Ohio judge who wanted to display a poster of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.
The justices let stand the ruling passed down by the lower courts that the religious document hanging in Richard County Common Pleas Judge James DeWeese’s courtroom violated the First Amendment Establishment Clause of the constitution as well as the Ohio constitution.
The poster in question is titled “Philosophies of Law in Conflict,” which outlines conflicts between different legal philosophies, presented in two columns labeled “Moral Absolutes” and “Moral Relatives.” Under the Moral Absolutes column, a text of the Ten Commandments is displayed while the Moral Relatives column is followed by what DeWeese calls “humanist precepts,” according to the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.
The latter includes statements such as "the universe is self-existent and not created," "ethics depend on the person and the situation" and "there is no absolute truth."
Explaining that America’s founders recognized the need to ground legal philosophy on moral absolutes, the Ohio judge pens in the poster that he agrees with the founders and joins them in “personally acknowledging the importance of Almighty God’s fixed moral standards for restoring the moral fabric of this nation.”
Additionally, on the lower right hand corner of the frame, readers are guided to take a pamphlet further explaining his philosophy from the court receptionist.
DeWeese argued that his poster had a secular purpose, which sought to express his legal philosophy and foster discussion and debate about legal philosophy and the consequences of basing a society’s legal system on relativism as opposed to moral absolutes.
Judge Patricia A. Gaughan of the U.S. District Court Northern District of Ohio, ruled, however, that the defendant’s purpose was religious in light of the words written in his declaration, poster, and pamphlet, and agreed with previous rulings by the district court and Sixth Circuit.
This was DeWeee’s second attempt at displaying the biblical commandments in his courtroom. He had previously tried to display the laws in 2000, for which the ACLU also sued him.
In his first attempt to display the religious document in his courtroom in July 2000, a year after he was elected judge, his posters were markedly different from his 2006 posters. Instead of the “Philosophies of Law in Conflict,” he put up two posters, one of the Ten Commandments and the other, the Bill of Rights. He called each “the rule of law.”
Similar to the reasoning by Gaughan, the court found that the original display endorsed religious views and seemed to instruct individuals that the legal system was based on moral absolutes from divine law handed down by God through the Ten Commandments.
In both cases, the judges declared he was violating the separation of church and state and endorsing a particular religion over non-religion, issuing an injunction for the removal of the posters consequently.
Though DeWeese appealed both decisions, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the rulings and denied the display of the posters.
The latest denial of appeal by the Supreme Court justices was his last attempt to display the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. Though he was disappointed, he knew that his effort to get the case to the Supreme Court was far-reaching, he told the Mansfield News Journal.
He commented that he would eventually take the display down.