O.C. Defies Courts on Ten Commandments
Commissioners Poised To Test Ten Commandments Law
June 28, 2000
Orange County officials will soon be telling local residents to "honor thy father and mother" and to "keep the Sabbath day holy."
The county's three commissioners will post a wooden plaque displaying the Ten Commandments in the Orange County Courthouse in Paoli on Saturday at 12:01 a.m., the moment the state's new law allowing such posting takes effect.
"We were the first state to pass such a law," said state Rep. Jerry Denbo. "(The commissioners) want to be the first ones in America to post the Ten Commandments in a public building."
The French Lick Democrat sponsored the legislation allowing the display of the Ten Commandments on public property as part of an exhibit of other historical documents. The law and most other new laws passed in the last session of the General Assembly take effect July 1.
"A lot of our laws in America are based on the principles in the Ten Commandments," Denbo said. "A lot of people feel our government has gotten away from these principles."
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last month against the state to prevent it from displaying the Ten Commandments on the Statehouse lawn. The lawsuit contends the posting would violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
ICLU officials said then that they were filing the suit to spare local governments from later having to remove displays they might erect.
"Rep. Denbo hasn't decided to be so careful with taxpayer money. But it's not his money, so I guess he can spend it more carelessly," said John Krull, executive director of the ICLU.
Tuesday, ICLU officials were unsure whether the organization would file a similar suit against Orange County.
"Since Rep. Denbo took all the credit for getting the (law) passed, I hope he will step up and take all the blame when the bill comes," Krull said. "This is going to be expensive litigation, he's putting his county at risk for those expenses."
Denbo said the county commissioners are prepared for any potential fallout for displaying the commandments.
"They're fully aware there could be a lawsuit on this," Denbo said. "They're willing to take a stand on what they think is right."
But when asked about the possibility of an expensive lawsuit, Jim Mathers, president of the Orange County Commissioners, said: "Maybe we just didn't think that much about it."
Sen. Anita Bowser, who voted against the bill, is convinced the law will be overturned in court.
"The circuit court in Kentucky threw out the same kind of bill we have," the Michigan City Democrat said. "And considering what the U.S. Supreme Court just decided about saying a prayer at ball games, I would assume that as soon as the (Civil Liberties Union) gets a case, they court will throw it out."
The Supreme Court, in a recent ruling, said that student-led prayers at school sporting events are not permissible under the Constitution.
Bowser and the other opponents of the Ten Commandments law said although the Orange County officials have good intentions, the display is a mistake.
"This is a religious document where a specific god is represented and was never intended to be taken as a general set of moral standards," said the Rev. Kevin Armstrong, pastor of Roberts Park United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.
Armstrong joined the ICLU in the suit against the state.
"What's more important to me is placing those sacred writings in their religious contexts," he said. "Putting them in public square diminishes their religious nature."
J.A.I.L. (Judicial Accountability Initiative Law)
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