US Court Allows Ten Commandments Monument in Civic Plaza

A Ten Commandments Statue.
A Ten Commandments Statue.

Minnesota’s 8th Circuit court has ruled that a monument featuring the Ten Commandments in Fargo’s Civic Plaza does not violate separation of church and state laws, Courthouse News reports.

The statue, which was donated by civic group the Fraternal Order of Eagles, has been in place for 60 years. In 2002, when the city turned down the Red River Freethinkers’ offer to donate a monument espousing religious freedom to sit alongside the blatantly Christian Commandments monument, it became the subject of a protracted legal battle.

Initially, Fargo’s response to the controversy was to move the sculpture to private property. More than 5,000 citizens protested with a petition proposing an ordinance that would prevent “a marker or monument on City of Fargo property for 40 or more years” from being “removed from its location on City of Fargo property.”

The law was passed, as well as an additional law preventing the erection of any other monuments at the site. A 2008 suit from the Freethinkers was thrown out due to lack of standing, a ruling that was later reversed, allowing the case to be heard.

The decision to allow the statue cited Van Orden v. Perry, a 2005 US Supreme Court ruling that another Ten Commandments monument had cultural, rather than purely religious, significance. In the 8th Circuit ruling, Judge Duane Benton expressed concern that disallowing the monument would “encourage disputes concerning the removal of longstanding depictions of the Ten Commandments…[and] thereby create the very kind of religiously based divisiveness that the establishment clause seeks to avoid.”

The Fargo monument is not the only controversial Ten Commandments monument located on government property that has been contested in recent years. In response to one at the Oklahoma Statehouse, the Satanic Temple is preparing a demonic statue for the site (see artnet News article “Satanic Temple Monument Almost Ready for Oklahoma Statehouse“).

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