Judge's Ten Commandments Poster Ruled Unconstitutional

CLEVELAND (AP) - A federal judge has ruled that a poster showing the Ten Commandments should not be displayed in a county courtroom.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen O'Malley ruled on Tuesday that Richland County Common Pleas Judge James DeWeese's purpose for posting the commandments is "generally laudable."

But she decided that his intention is "constitutionally deficient, because the debate he seeks to foster is inherently religious in character."

A message for DeWeese was left Wednesday with a member of his staff. His courtroom is in Mansfield, between Cleveland and Columbus.

"We're disappointed with the decision," said Gene Kapp, spokesman for American Center for Law and Justice, which represented DeWeese. "But we're already working on our appeal. We are working on a number of Ten Commandment cases across the country."

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sued DeWeese and the county commissioners. Bernard Davis, an ACLU member in Mansfield, objected to the poster and said the display made him feel as though the judge forced religion on him.

But attorneys for Richland County said the Ten Commandments are more than a religious text; they also provide a significant influence on the modern legal system.

DeWeese has said he has used the display to teach groups that tour his courtroom about the development of the legal system.

O'Malley wrote in the ruling that "the Founding Fathers creation of a wall of separation between church and state was designed to ensure full religious freedom to believe or not to believe, to participate or not to participate, as one pleases."

Raymond Vasvari, the legal director of the ACLU in Cleveland, applauded the decision.

"It is imperative that church-state separation be honored, above all, in the very courtroom where judges are sworn to uphold the Constitution," he said.

DeWeese has been a county judge since 1991.

The U.S. Supreme Court about a year ago decided against hearing a case involving display of the Ten Commandments. The court chose not to rule on the constitutionality of a Ten Commandments display in front of the Elkhart, Ind., Municipal Building and let stand a lower court ruling that a marker violated the constitutional boundaries between church and state.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)