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Court OKs Commandments display in city park

A federal appeals court Friday reversed its earlier order that a Ten Commandments monument be removed from a city park in Plattsmouth, Neb.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal appeals court Friday reversed its earlier ruling that said a Ten Commandments monument must be removed from a city park in Plattsmouth.

The 11-2 ruling from the entire 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling last year from one of the court's three-judge panels.

The court cited a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that said it was constitutionally permissible to display the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas Capitol.

In the Texas case, the high court said a 6-foot-tall granite monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol — one of 17 historical displays on the 22-acre lot — was a legitimate tribute to the nation's legal and religious history.

In Friday's ruling, Judge Pasco Bowman said the “the Plattsmouth monument makes passive and permissible use of the text of the Ten Commandments to acknowledge the role of religion in our nation's heritage.”

“Similar references to and representations of the Ten Commandments on government property are replete throughout our country,” he said. “Buildings housing the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Department of Justice, the Court of Appeals and District Court for the District of Columbia, and the United States House of Representatives all include depictions of the Ten Commandments.”

Fraternal Order of Eagles gift
Lawyers for Plattsmouth had argued that the monument is simply a gift from a prominent civic group, not an endorsement of religion.

The Ten Commandments monument in Plattsmouth is among hundreds donated to cities and counties around the nation in the 1950s and 1960s by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

Plattsmouth, a town of 7,000 some 20 miles south of Omaha, received its tombstone-shaped monument in 1965.

In addition to the text, the monument is emblazoned with two Stars of David, which are symbols of the Jewish faith. It sits in Memorial Park.

The man who filed the lawsuit said he can see the monument from a street on his way to work each day and when he attends events in the park.

The 8th Circuit said the monument has “a dual significance, partaking of both religion and government.”

Not highly visible
Bowman also noted that the monument is 200 yards from the park's public parking lot and that there are no roads or walkways from the parking lot to the monument.

“The words of the monument face away from the park, away from any recreational equipment, picnic tables, benches, or shelters,” Bowman said. “Although the inscribed side of the monument faces the road, it is too far away to be read by passing motorists.”

The American Center for Law and Justice, a group that focuses on family and religious issues, had asked the 8th Circuit to review an earlier ruling in the Plattsmouth case by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Lincoln rejected the city's argument that the monument is protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom.

On the day of the Texas ruling, the high court ruled 5-4 that Ten Commandments displays in two Kentucky courthouses cross the line between separation of church and state.

While it said some displays would be permissible if they're portrayed neutrally in order to honor the nation's legal history, the court ruled that framed copies of the Ten Commandments in the Kentucky courthouses went too far in endorsing religion.