- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

American Civil Liberties Union officials said yesterday that they will drop their lawsuit against Frederick and Frederick County, essentially approving the city's plan to sell the land where a Ten Commandments monument sits.
The ACLU is satisfied that Frederick city officials have made the land sale available to all interested buyers, ACLU lawyer Dwight Sullivan said.
"It was a concern that it would not be sole-sourced to a religious organization, and we've been assured that their normal procurement rules will govern the sale of the property and also that it's being sold for its assessed value," Mr. Sullivan said.
Frederick Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty said she would not be convinced of the lawsuit's withdrawal until she sees something in writing. But she added that she is confident the city's ordeal is finally over.
"I feel pretty good. Obviously this is a contentious issue, but I think this is the best resolution," Mrs. Dougherty said of the city's plan to sell the land.
Mrs. Dougherty said the city has received five offers for the 10-by-50-foot tract that adjoins the 1.5-acre Bentz Street Graveyard Memorial Ground, formerly known as Memorial Park. The land has been appraised at $6,700. City officials decided last month to sell the plot to avoid litigation by the ACLU.
City Facilities Manager Pat Keegin has sent out confirmatory letters to the four individuals and one group who made offers and is reviewing the offers this week.
"We hope to resolve this by the end of the year, and I have every intention of signing those settlement papers as soon as possible," Mrs. Dougherty said. "We do have more important issues to debate."
The mayor said the offers will be reviewed in the order they were received. If each potential buyer agrees to the city's contract, the land will go to whoever made the first offer.
Protest over the monument was raised in May, when a high school student took his objections to the ACLU.
The ACLU sued the city Aug. 23, saying such a marker in a city-owned park violates the First Amendment ban on state-sponsored religion.
The monument is one of many throughout the country that were donated to local governments in the 1950s by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. In the past decade, the 5-foot monuments have come under attack from civil libertarians.
About two dozen jurisdictions are embroiled in legal action over the markers.
Frederick's five-member Board of Aldermen first suggested in July that the city consider selling the land, an early 19th-century graveyard. The board also asked city officials to determine the cost of a defense fund.
When officials reported back, the board voted 3-2 twice to sell the land. In October, appraisers valued the strip at $6,700, and the city will sell it for that price, Mrs. Dougherty said.
Nancy Poss, spokeswoman for the city of Frederick, said that other cases involving similar monuments around the country have been settled by local governments selling the land, and that the ACLU has approved those solutions.
If the city had chosen to fight the lawsuit, the ACLU would have been able to recoup its lawyers' fees if it won. The first quarterly bill the ACLU sent to the city totaled $18,000, Mrs. Dougherty said.
The land now up for sale contains the remains of two or three people from the time when the park was used primarily as a Dutch Reformed Christian Church cemetery, Mrs. Dougherty said.
She said any contract on sale of the land will specify that nothing may be done to disturb those remains.

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