Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Challengers regroup in two Ohio court cases

The Associated Press

        Acting on the order of a federal judge, a state judge removed a Ten Commandments poster from his Mansfield courtroom Monday then rehung it hours later when an appeals court granted a temporary reprieve.

        The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said Judge James DeWeese of the Richland County Common Pleas Court can display the poster until it decides whether to stay the federal judge's order.

        U.S. District Judge Kathleen O'Malley of Cleveland last week upheld an American Civil Liberties Union argument that posting the Ten Commandments in a courtroom was an unconstitutional display that appeared to suggest government endorsement of religion.

        O'Malley wrote that DeWeese could risk being found in contempt if he did not remove the Ten Commandments poster by 9 a.m. Monday. He removed it by the deadline. DeWeese put it back up less than three hours later after the federal appeals court said he could, said his lawyer, Frank Manion.

        In another Ohio court case involving a Ten Commandments display, clergy in Adams County urged the school board Monday to challenge a federal magistrate's ruling that stone tablets at public schools must be removed.

        Last week, U.S. Magistrate Timothy Hogan of Cincinnati upheld the ACLU's argument that displaying the Ten Commandments on public school grounds violates the constitutional separation of church and state. The Adams County school board has 30 days to give notice that it will appeal.

        The commandments provide moral guidance to students, said the Rev. Ken Johnson, pastor of Seaman United Methodist Church. The text on the 3-foot-tall stone tablets is easily visible to students entering and leaving Adams County's four public high schools.

        “We just think we need them there for a good moral code,” said Johnson, a member of the Adams County Ministerial Association which donated the tablets in 1997. They have been displayed since then.

        Members of the Adams County/Ohio Valley School District board meet Thursday in West Union and won't decide before then whether to appeal, said Roy Hill, superintendent of the 5,000-student school district in rural southern Ohio.

        Manion, who argued the board's case in U.S. District Court, said Monday he expects the board to appeal because it has so far staunchly defended keeping the display.


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