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Federal appeals court orders removal of Bible in Texas courthouse monument

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion text, PDF] Tuesday that a Bible included in a monument in front of a Harris County, Texas [official website] civil courthouse [official website] promotes Christianity and thereby violates the US Constitution. The monument [image] had a secular purpose when it was erected in 1956, but a former state district judge refurbished the monument in 1995 and highlighted the Bible in the monument, making the monument religious in nature, according to Judge E. Grady Jolly's written opinion. Tuesday's ruling upholds a 2004 district court ruling [opinion text, PDF] by US District Judge Sim Lake, which found the Bible in the monument to be an endorsement of religion by Texas. Harris County argued to the Fifth Circuit that the "purpose and effect" of the monument, which memorializes a successful Harris County businessman, is secular in nature, but Jolly declared that, "although the monument at one time may have passed constitutional scrutiny, its recent history would force an objective observer to conclude that it is a religious symbol of a particular faith, located on public grounds."

Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford said the county will likely seek an en banc review by the entire Fifth Circuit, but also suggested that the county may appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court. In 2004, a Fifth Circuit panel stayed Lake's order to remove the Bible from the display pending an appeal of the decision, but later in 2005 ordered the Bible removed [JURIST reports]. The Houston Chronicle has more.

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