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Published: Friday, 12/13/2002

Ohio's ACLU sues to bring down Lucas County Ten Commandments


Sandy Isenberg, president of the Lucas County commissioners, once vowed that only a court order would bring down the Ten Commandments monument on the courthouse lawn.

The American Civil Liberties Union has taken up that challenge.

The ACLU Foundation of Ohio, Inc., recently filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court that seeks removal of the 45-year-old monument from the Lucas County courthouse's lawn.

Yesterday, Ms. Isenberg said she doesn't like to comment on pending lawsuits, but added: “I haven't seen the court order yet.”

Ms. Isenberg was defeated last month by Maggie Thurber, so she won't be in office if the court order ever comes. But Raymond Vasvari, legal director of the ACLU, thinks the monument will come down.

He said federal district courts in Ohio and nearby states have ordered the removal of Ten Commandment monuments and posters at courthouses and schools. Mr. Vasvari said the monument violates the First Amendment's prohibition against the government establishing religion.

“The time was ripe,” Mr. Vasvari said. “There are many such monuments around the state, but the one in Toledo is more prominent than many of them. ... When you put them on the lawn of the courthouse, it sends the message every day that the Establishment Clause isn't being taken seriously.”

The Ten Commandments monument was erected on the southeast corner of the courthouse lawn by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1957. In 1959, the ACLU erected a tablet nearby that contains the Bill of Rights.

Commissioner Harry Barlos would not directly comment on the ACLU's lawsuit but said people generally are more concerned with the aftermath of last year's terrorist attacks than a monument.

“We're trying to heal,” Mr. Barlos said. “Hopefully, that's working. I don't know whether this has to do with religion or a country trying to come together and be stronger.

“We can fight about a physical structure that's on a certain piece of property, but I think the big picture is that Sept. 11 is more important.”

Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates, whose office will defend the lawsuit, said she couldn't comment. But last year she said she had no problem with the monument because it spoke to the basic moral tenets that the law is trying to uphold in the courthouse.

“The Ten Commandments are laws, and this is a courthouse where we deal with laws,” Mrs. Bates said at the time. “It's just one example of historic laws.”

Mr. Vasvari disagreed that the monument represented nondenominational, generic rules. He said the text is religiously based and is considered sacred in the Jewish and Christian faiths.

“This is a nation of laws,” he said. “If the courts themselves can't show enough deference to the Constitution, what signal does that send to the people walking through the courthouse doors every day?”

The case has been assigned to Judge James Carr.

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