- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 14, 2004

CUMBERLAND, Md. — The Allegany County commissioners have ordered a Ten Commandments monument moved back to the courthouse lawn just two days after removing it for fear of a First Amendment lawsuit, a county official said yesterday.

Their decision late Wednesday followed a public outcry and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to consider a similar case in Texas.

“The commissioners have decided to listen to public opinion and we’re going to move it back,” said county Administrator Vance Ishler.

Mr. Ishler said that once the Supreme Court rules on the Texas case, the commissioners will take any action necessary to comply with the law.

“They will follow the direction of the Supreme Court,” Mr. Ishler said. “Hopefully, there won’t be any need to move it again.”

By Monday, he said, county workers will move the 5-foot, 1,600-pound granite marker back to the courthouse from the lawn of the neighboring C. William Gilchrist Gallery, run by a private foundation that had agreed to take it.

The reversal pleased Edward W. Taylor Jr., who led a demonstration Tuesday demanding the monument’s return.

“This shows that when something of this magnitude happens, the public still has a say,” Mr. Taylor said. “The public servants, the public officials, still must answer to the public.”

As in the Texas case, Cumberland’s marker is one of about 200 that the Fraternal Order of Eagles donated to municipalities across the country for public display in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.

The project gained notoriety when actor Charlton Heston, star of the 1956 movie “The Ten Commandments,” participated in a dedication in California, said Robert Wahls, international secretary of the Eagles organization in Grove City, Ohio.

The monument in Cumberland, a Western Maryland city of 21,000, stood on the Allegany County Courthouse lawn from 1957 until Monday, when workers moved it 30 yards to the Gilchrist site with the commissioners’ approval.

Mr. Ishler said the first move was aimed at pre-empting a lawsuit like those filed in Texas and elsewhere, saying that such displays violate the constitutional prohibition of state-sponsored religion. Courts throughout the country have disagreed on whether such exhibits violate the principle of separation of church and state.

Mr. Ishler said several people from outside the county had contacted his office in recent months, questioning the legality of the display on public property. He said that if the reversal prompts a lawsuit, he hopes the judge will delay any proceedings pending the high court’s decision.

Mr. Ishler said a number of groups, including the Cumberland Historic Cemetery Organization headed by Mr. Taylor, have offered to take possession of the ground immediately beneath the monument and to assume legal liability for it.

Mr. Ishler said the three county commissioners agreed to the reversal by telephone Wednesday while vacationing in Hawaii and Spain.

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