A federal judge has given a victory to free speech and religious expression, dismissing a six-year-old lawsuit filed by the ACLU against a Ten Commandments display in Dixie County, Florida. The 12,000-pound monument was erected at the Dixie County courthouse in 2006 by local resident Joe Anderson, who was given permission by the county and who maintained the display at his own expense. In addition to the Decalogue, the display included the simple admonition, “Love God and keep His Commandments.”
In 2007 a visitor to the county was offended by the display and contacted the ACLU in an attempt to force the monument's removal. The plaintiff in the case, referred to as “John Doe,” claimed that the monument was a major factor in his decision against purchasing property in the county.
While a U.S. district court ordered the removal of the Ten Commandments display in 2011, ruling that it violated the First Amendment's establishment clause, in August 2012 the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th District ruled that the display could temporarily remain while the case was returned to the lower court for reconsideration. In granting a temporary stay, the appeals court explained that it was concerned over the plaintiff's confusing explanation over why he had decided against purchasing property in Dixie County.
“Mr. Doe” originally testified in the case that there were several things about the county that he found objectionable, including a cartoon taped to a county employee's desk, a website in the county for an entity called “Patriot Properties,” as well as the Ten Commandments monument. But after the county asked the court to dismiss the case on grounds that the plaintiff lacked standing to sue, Doe insisted that it was only the Ten Commandments monument that had caused him to decide against purchasing property in the county.
In its 2012 ruling the appeals court said it was troubled by the differing versions of the plaintiff's objections. “Doe’s affidavit — which is suspect, given that it seems designed to strengthen Doe’s standing claim — is inconsistent with his deposition,” the court wrote, concluding that it was improper for the lower court to decide against the county based on Doe's changing testimony.
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Photo of Ten Commandments display in front of Dixie County Courthouse: AP Images