July 19, 2005

Georgia county removes Ten Commandments display

By Paul Simao

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A rural Georgia county removed an
inscription of the Ten Commandments from its courthouse on
Tuesday, ending a two-year battle with civil libertarians over
the constitutionality of the Judeo-Christian display.

The removal of the 3-by-4-foot (1-by-1.2-meter) framed
parchment display from a hallway in the Barrow County
courthouse in Winder, Georgia, came weeks after the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled that such markers were legal only in
limited circumstances.

That decision dealt a blow to the Georgia county's effort
to fight a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union,
which argued the display should be removed because it violated
the constitutional ban on government promotion of religion.

The case was supposed to go to trial this week in a federal
court in Georgia, but was canceled after the county agreed to
abide by the ACLU's request. On Monday, U.S. District Judge
William O'Kelley ordered the display removed.

"The lack of private funding for continuing the defense and
the recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court have
forced the county to submit to this court order," Barrow County
Commission Chairman Doug Garrison said on Tuesday.

Garrison added that it was too early to say how residents
would react. Thousands of people, many of them fundamentalist
Christians, have attended rallies in and around Winder in
support of the county's position in the past two years.

Winder is about 35 miles east of Atlanta.

Last month the Supreme Court struck down the posting of Ten
Commandments plaques in two Kentucky courthouses, ruling that
they were unconstitutional because their content overemphasized

At the same time, it ruled that a Ten Commandments monument
could remain on the grounds of the Texas capitol because it was
a neutral display that honored the nation's history. The Barrow
County inscription had been on display a mere three years.

"We're pleased mostly that all citizens of Barrow County,
regardless of their religious beliefs, can now feel welcome in
their own community," said Maggie Garrett, an ACLU lawyer in

Judge O'Kelley's order also calls for the county to pay
$150,000 in legal costs to the ACLU and refrain from hanging
similar displays on public property.