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Appeals court blocks order to remove Ten Commandments monument to consider standing issue

A three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Wednesday ordered [decision, PDF] a lower court to reconsider its decision ordering Florida's Dixie County Courthouse to remove a Ten Commandments monument [JPG] from its front steps. A federal judge last year ordered the monument to be removed [JURIST report], finding that if violated the Establishment Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] of the Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLUFL) [advocacy website] filed the lawsuit in early 2007 on behalf of an unidentified man who allegedly chose not to buy property in the county due to the monument. The appeals court determined Wednesday, however, that the man may not have had standing to sue. In his opinion, Judge Charles Wilson said the court below failed to consider statements made by the plaintiff that may have affected his standing in the case. As a result, the order to remove the monument was vacated, and the lower court has been ordered to reconsider whether the plaintiff in the case has standing to sue.

Ten Commandments displays at courthouses have been the subject of legal controversy in recent years. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in February 2011 upheld a lower court ruling barring the Ten Commandments [JURIST report] from being displayed in an Ohio courthouse. The Sixth Circuit in June 2010 upheld an injunction against similar displays [JURIST report] in two Kentucky courthouses. A month earlier, the same court denied an en banc rehearing in another case [opinion, PDF] involving the display of the Ten Commandments in a Grayson County, Kentucky, courthouse. The court found the display to be constitutional because it presented a valid secular purpose from the outset. In a 2005 decision, the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of a Ten Commandments display [JURIST report] in a Mercer County, Kentucky, courthouse. A 2005 Supreme Court decision [JURIST report] prohibiting an earlier attempt at a similar display in Kentucky prompted lawmakers to propose a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] to overturn it. On the same day, the Supreme Court ruled that a six-foot-tall display of the Ten Commandments [JURIST report] on the grounds of the Texas state capitol was constitutionally acceptable because it had a secular purpose.

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