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« on: January 11, 2005, 01:25:32 AM »

Court Grants ACLU Protection Order in GA Ten Commandments Case

by Allie Martin and Jenni Parker
January 10, 2005

(AgapePress) - A Georgia County is being sued over a display of the Ten Commandments, but a judge has ruled that neither the plaintiff's identity nor the trial proceedings can be made public.

The Ten Commandments display is located in a breezeway in the Barrow County Courthouse in Winder, Georgia. The plaque was purchased by a private citizen, who requested that it be displayed on county property. However, a local resident contacted the American Civil Liberties Union and sued to have the display of the biblical laws removed.

Attorney Herb Titus has been retained to defend Barrow County against the lawsuit. The Virginia Beach, Virginia, lawyer was a member of the defense team for Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was suspended after refusing to obey a federal judge's order to remove a 5,280-pound Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama judicial building.

Titus is unhappy with the court-imposed seal on the trial proceedings. He says the ruling, at the ACLU's request, that the trial be kept from the public and that the plaintiff's identity be shielded as well, is disturbing. "I just think it's so important," the attorney points out, "that the Christian community recognize that we have within the Christian community television programs, radio programs, publications in writing -- and [that] our freedom of the press is just as important as the freedom of the press of the New York Times or the Washington Post."

Barrow County's representative in the case feels the local citizens -- and not only the Christians -- should be outraged by this ruling, in which the court seems to have sided with the ACLU against the public. He notes that it was a Barrow County resident who initially purchased the Ten Commandments display, and a member of the county's Board of Commissioners who "informally polled the board and asked them if it was okay. And so they put it up at the request of a Barrow County citizen."

Nevertheless, the ACLU objected and filed a civil rights action on behalf of the unnamed plaintiff, referred to as "John Doe," challenging the constitutionality of the Ten Commandments display. The ACLU suit claims the plaque violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment.

Titus believes the civil liberties organization, bent on its atheistic purpose, is disregarding the circumstances surrounding this particular display. He asserts, "What the ACLU is really doing here is saying it doesn't really matter how a particular picture of the Ten Commandments appears on public property -- whether it's there at the request of a citizen or whether it's there by formal resolution of a government body -- they're all unconstitutional."

The ACLU suit contends that the so-called "John Doe" is someone who goes to the Courthouse "on a regular basis" to conduct various kinds of business and must walk past the Ten Commandments display. Therefore, the group's legal action states, on each visit Doe is "subject to unavoidable and unwelcome exposure to the Ten Commandments display," and objects to that display as "an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and because the display trivializes religion." The ACLU action also argues that the protective order shielding the proceedings is necessary to prevent harassment or intimidation becoming factors in the outcome of the case.

The attorney for Barrow County feels, however, that the protective order requested for the ACLU's anonymous plaintiff is too strict and will hinder the defense in conducting pre-trial discovery. The court's order makes it a criminal offense for the defense to disclose the identity of the plaintiff in any fashion during the discovery process.

Titus has filed a motion to stay the trial, which would bring the court proceedings temporarily to a halt. He is hopeful that a news organization will ask the court to make public all aspects of the case.

http://news.christiansunite.com/Religion_News/religion02088.shtml

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