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Charleston Council's Commandments plaque endorses religion, state court rules.

A South Carolina judge has ordered the Charleston County Council to remove a Ten Commandments plaque posted outside council chambers, holding that the display violates the separation of church and state.

Ruling from the bench Aug. 1, Circuit Court Judge R. Markley Dennis Jr. held that the plaque, erected by councilman Tim Scott in the council foyer July 22, must come down. "I have no alternative but to grant the preliminary injunction and order that pending this action, council cannot display the Ten Commandments in their present position," Dennis said at the conclusion of the hearing.

In a follow-up written opinion issued Aug. 4, Dennis observed, "Government may not affiliate itself with religious symbols or doctrines in a manner that suggests an endorsement of a particular religious faith. Though religion may be acknowledged and accommodated by the State, it may not be promoted."

The Young v. County of Charleston suit was filed July 14 by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina. (Sharon Robles, president of AU's South Carolina chapter, served as a plaintiff along with the Rev. James Young, are tired Baptist minister, and local attorney Armand Derfner.)

Experts believe the posting was part of a nationwide campaign by the Religious Right to adorn all public buildings with religious symbols. The drive was apparently sparked by Judge Roy Moore, an Etowah County, Ala.,jurist who became a Religious Right hero when he refused to remove a Ten Commandments plaque from his courtroom. (Moore's case is on appeal before the Alabama Supreme Court.)

Said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, "The Ten Commandments should never be used for political purposes, and thanks to decisions like this one, they won't be. This sends a message to all government officials that church-state separation must be preserved."

Scott, who introduced the proposal in early May to post the Ten Commandments in council chambers, wants to pursue an appeal. His original motion to put up the commandments passed the all-Republican council by a unanimous vote, despite the threat of a lawsuit from Americans United and the ACLU.

In the wake of Dennis' ruling, Scott remained defiant. "My gut reaction is let's get excited and mobilize some troops and take our fight to the public," he told the Charleston Post and Courier. "I think this is worth defending."

But some council members may be having second thoughts. Charles Wallace, who voted in favor of the display, questioned spending taxpayer money on the case. "Every court up to the Supreme Court is going to rule against us," he said.

Meanwhile, evidence indicates Charleston County Council members may not be as pious as they profess to be. When the Post and Courier asked the nine members to name the Ten Commandments, none could recall all 10. Scott came up with nine and one other council member named eight. Two members refused to even try. Snapped Councilman Barrett Lawrimore, "I don't have time for this pop quiz."
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Publication:Church & State
Date:Sep 1, 1997
Words:500
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