11th Cir: Thou Shalt Not Remove the 10 Commandments Quite Yet

By Robyn Hagan Cain on August 16, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Dixie County's 5-foot, 6-ton Ten Commandments monument can keep standing while the courts decide whether the plaintiff who complained about the statue has standing.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Inc. sued Dixie County in 2007, arguing that a Ten Commandments monument in front of the county courthouse violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The County moved for summary judgment, claiming that plaintiff John Doe, the ACLU member through whom the ACLU claimed standing, could not demonstrate an actual injury that he had suffered as a result of the display. The district court denied the motion, and eventually granted summary judgment in favor of the ACLU.

Standing, however, still matters to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Atlanta-based appellate court remanded the case, noting that an evidentiary hearing on the issue of standing was merited.

So what's Doe's damage?

John Doe resides primarily in North Carolina. He's never lived in the Dixie County, and he doesn't own property there, but he's considered buying land in the County.

In 2007, Doe had to go to the Dixie County courthouse for the first time. According to the Eleventh Circuit opinion, Doe had not been aware of the statue's existence prior to that visit, and the experience of seeing the statue was negative. He was "shocked," but he managed to take care of his business at the courthouse after snapping a picture of the monument with his phone.

Five years later, Doe still hasn't purchased property in the County. In his deposition, he said his reason for not purchasing property was "the Dixie County government probably. The display of the monuments, the monument ... I found other things I was offended by."

In a subsequent affidavit to the trial court, Doe said the monument was the only thing standing in the way of a property purchase.

Judge Maurice Paul relied solely on the affidavit before ruling that the monument must go. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, however, concluded that Judge Paul should have also considered the deposition evidence in his standing analysis, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The case will now bounce back to the Judge Paul for a second round of standing analysis.

Even if the courts decide that Doe has standing to bring his case and order the monument's removal, the statue could survive Supreme Court review. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that displaying the Ten Commandments could be constitutional if the purpose of the display was honoring the nation's legal traditions, rather than religious traditions. The Court, however, has not considered the issue since that time, despite some justices' protestations that the Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence warrants clarification.

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