Liberty Counsel Defends FL County for Ten Commandments Monument

Jun 28, 2017

LEVY COUNTY, FL – Late yesterday Liberty Counsel filed a Motion for Summary Judgement in American Atheists, Inc. v. Levy County, where a local atheist and an atheist group claim that the Ten Commandments monument next to the county courthouse violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In 2009, Levy County created neutral guidelines for local residents and groups to place their own monuments in an area next to the courthouse, commemorating people, events or ideas that have significantly influenced American or Florida law, or Levy County. These monuments would join a veterans monument placed by a local veterans group in 1996. After the guidelines were in place, a local crisis pregnancy center applied to place the Ten Commandments monument in the forum. Given the long-recognized influence of the Ten Commandments in the development of American law, the County approved the monument under the guidelines, and it was placed in early 2010.
Four years later, a local atheist group applied to place a monument commemorating American Atheists, Inc. and its founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair, but also disparaging religion with numerous out-of-context quotes commonly argued by atheists to undermine America’s religious heritage. The proposed monument’s content, however, did not comply with the County’s neutral guidelines, which require the complete text of any document quoted, and require monument subjects to have significantly influenced American or Florida law, or Levy County. The County denied the application for its numerous deficiencies under the guidelines. The County also denied an amended application that did not correct the deficiencies of the original.
In June 2015, the local atheist group’s leader, backed by the national group American Atheists, Inc., sued the County in federal court, seeking removal of the Ten Commandments monument, or to force the County to allow the atheists’ noncompliant monument. Two years of discovery, however, have shown that there is no injury under the Constitution—the local atheist plaintiff never wanted an atheist monument, and he wants to remove the Ten Commandments because he is opposed to any acknowledgement of religion by the government.

“This case does not require the Court to pick a winner between secularism and religion. It requires only that the Court uphold the Constitution,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “The Ten Commandments monument is the private speech of the group that placed it in the County’s forum, and even if it were government speech, according to the U.S. Supreme Court it is entirely proper for the County to recognize the Ten Commandments’ contribution to American law. The local plaintiff’s mere displeasure with the thought of a Ten Commandments monument he has barely encountered is not an injury under the Constitution. If the atheists want to place their own monument next to it, they have to follow the same rules as everyone else,” said Staver.

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.