- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2000

A decision by a North Carolina county courthouse to add copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta to its display of the Ten Commandments has placated the local branch of the ACLU.
In its most recent attempt to purge public buildings of religious messages, the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union sued Wilkes County in April, demanding commissioners remove six copies of the Ten Commandments posted around the courthouse.
The organization claimed posting the documents was unconstitutional. "They were injecting religion into government operations," said Deborah Ross, executive and legal director of the state's branch.
But the addition of the historical writings has assuaged the ACLU.
"After seeing the display, we are amenable to trying to reach some sort of compromise," Miss Ross said.
The county followed a pattern first used when the ACLU objected to the display of Nativity scenes on courthouse grounds.
In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled that the city of Pawtucket, R.I., did not violate the First Amendment by including a creche in a winter holiday display. "Total separation is not possible in an absolute sense," the decision said. "Some relationship between government and religious organizations is inevitable."
But in 1989, when the ACLU filed suit against the county of Allegheny in Pennsylvania, for displaying a Nativity scene with a banner proclaiming "Glory to God in the Highest," the Supreme Court declared the display unconstitutional. It said the creche displayed alone, without other, secular holiday decorations like reindeer and snowmen, demonstrated government allegiance to a particular sect or creed.
The Supreme Court ruled against the county and explained that the government's use of religious symbolism depends on context.
At the end of last month, Wilkes County commissioners voted to remove the plaques from the courthouse and replace them in just two places with displays containing documents pertinent to U.S. history.
Janet Parshall, chief spokesman of the Family Research Council, said the Ten Commandments belong in the courthouse. "The Ten Commandments are the cornerstone of American law. Every day, people in courtrooms must place their hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth, so help them God.
"It is highly paradoxical that the ACLU is so threatened by the principles that are the basis for our government."

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