On Monday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that a Ten Commandments monument located in front of Fargo, Minnesota’s city hall does not violate the separation of church and state.
The Red River Freethinkers sued the city of Fargo in 2002 and lost after a judge declared that the monument was not religious — and did not, therefore, violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause — because it espoused values that are also secular. In 2007, the group petitioned the city to allow it place a secular monument next to the one celebrating the Ten Commandments, at which point the city considered moving the existing monument to private property.
However, that proposal angered many residents, who collected signatures on a petition to ban the city from removing the Ten Commandments monument from public property. The City Commission approved that petition, and went one step furthering, banning any other monument from joining the Ten Commandments one in the Civic Center plaza.
The one judge who dissented in the Circuit Court’s ruling, Kermit E. Bye, stated that this second ban is the reason that the monument violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. “The City Commission’s decisions grant the Ten Commandments monument a sole, permanent, and prominent location in the Civic Plaza” means that “the city basically acted in a way that supports one religion.”
In response to claims by the majority that this monument is akin to others which have not been found to violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, Judge Bye wrote that “the City’s Ten Commandments monument stands in substantially dissimilar environs” because “no other monuments share the Civic Plaza.”
The Red River Freethinkers have one last legal option — take the case to the Supreme Court. “If we do it,” Charles Sawicki, president of the Freethinkers, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, “Fargo better up its budget into the millions.”