The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Friday that a lawsuit opposing a Ten Commandments monument displayed on property owned by the City of Fargo, North Dakota, may move forward. The nonprofit group Red River Freethinkers [advocacy website] filed suit against Fargo in 2002, claiming that the city violated group members' constitutional rights under the Free Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [text] by displaying the religious monument, which was installed in 1961. The district court dismissed the original suit on the basis that the Freethinkers lacked standing to bring the claim against the city, but the appeals court reversed, finding that the group did have standing. The court determined that there was an injury to the Freethinkers, caused by the city's conduct, and that the injury could be redressed by removing the monument from the property. The appeals court remanded the suit back to federal district court in order to further develop the record. The Freethinkers had attempted to have commissioners approve a sister monument that asserted the US was not in any way founded on Christian principles, but the commission declined to approve that monument.
The separation of church and state has been and remains a controversial issue [JURIST op-ed] in American courts. In January the US Supreme Court declined to review [JURIST report] a case concerning whether a North Carolina county board of commissioners violated the Establishment Clause by opening their public meetings with prayers. In July a federal judge ordered a Florida county courthouse to remove the Ten Commandments monument [JURIST report] displayed [JPG] on its front steps on grounds that the monument's "permanent" nature and religious message violated the Establishment Clause. In April 2010 a federal judge in Wisconsin famously ruled that Congressional legislation [text] from 1952 establishing a National Day of Prayer [advocacy website] was unconstitutional [JURIST report]. There, in receiving a grant of summary judgment, the FFRF successfully argued that, by passing the aforementioned statute, the government had improperly endorsed religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.