Fargo Ten Commandments Lawsuit Can Go Forward

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on May 29, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals breathed new life into a Ten Commandments lawsuit in May.

The lawsuit, brought by a group of atheists and agnostics, known collectively as the Red River Freethinkers, sought to remove a Ten Commandments display from public property in Fargo, North Dakota. The group claimed that the monument violated the First Amendment rights protecting against government establishment of religion.

Initially, the group sued the city of Fargo in 2002, asking the city to remove the granite marker from city property. The lower court dismissed the case, holding that the monument had a secular purpose.

The next step for the Freethinkers was to ask the city to set up a monument stating that America was not founded on the Christian religion. The city then passed a new ordinance disallowing the removal of the monument and forbidding any other monuments to be erected on the civic plaza.

Again, the Freethinkers sued, this time alleging that the city had passed the ordinance with religious motives.

The trial court held that the Freethinkers suffered no harm by the city's actions.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, disagreed with the district court. The court of appeals held that the Freethinkers had a right to sue, as the monument made them feel isolated and unwelcome in the city.

Judge Roger Wollman stated that there was no doubt that removing the monument from the civic plaza would remedy and redress the purported injury.

Judge Bobby Shepherd, while concurring with the opinion, expressed a partial disagreement with the majority opinion, citing that no reasonable observer could draw the conclusion that there was a religious motive to the vote to keep the Ten Commandments on public property.

Ultimately, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Freethinkers had standing to sue.

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