It withstood a legal challenge and a vandal's attack in 1972, but the Ten Commandments monument outside the Metropolitan Hall of Justice may be toppled by a new court ruling.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday let stand an 11th Circuit Court decision mandating the removal of a plaque bearing the Ten Commandments and other religious teachings in a Cobb County, Ga., courthouse.In the wake of that development, the Utah chapter of the Society of Separationists plans to ask the federal courts to revisit a 1972 case involving Salt Lake County's court-house, attorney Brian M. Barnard said Wednesday.
"The decision by the 10th Circuit Court in 1972 didn't articulate the reasoning behind the decision," Barnard said. "It would be wise to let the 10th review it again in light of 20 years' worth of changes in the law and in light of the 11th's ruling."
Salt Lake County Commission Chairman Jim Bradley said the county attorney will be asked to assess the legal developments and recommend a course of action.
"If our attorneys tell us that the decision applies to us, we will move the (Ten Commandments) monument rather than spend taxpayers' dollars in some protracted court fight that we stand no chance of winning," Bradley said.
According to Barnard, the 11th Circuit Court ruled that the Ten Commandments plaque in the Georgia courthouse violated the constitutional principle of separation of church of state because it was displayed alone.
If it had been part of a broader exhibit of historical and secular documents dealing with the history of law, for example, it might have survived the legal challenge, he said.
Standing outside the court complex at 250 E. 400 South, Salt Lake County's stone monument would seem to violate the standard enunciated by the 11th Circuit Court, Barnard said. However, both he and Utah ACLU attorney Kate Kendell noted that the county is still governed by the 10th Circuit Court's 1972 ruling.
"But it is certainly our view that the Georgia court ruling was correct and that the 10th Circuit opinion from several years ago allowing the plaque of the Ten Commandments in front of the 3rd District Court was wrong," Ken-dell said.
Barnard said he was surprised by the Supreme Court's refusal to review the 11th Circuit Court case. When different circuit courts hand down conflicting rulings on the same issue, that issue is usually a prime candidate for Supreme Court intervention, he explained.
Bringing the matter back to the 10th Circuit Court via the federal district court could force a resolution of that conflict, he said.
Kendell said the ACLU doesn't plan to file a lawsuit. "Our plan at this point is to send a letter to the County Commission asking them to review the placement of the Ten Commandments monument. We'd like them to move it to an appropriate, religious location."
Barnard also suggested the county move the monument to privately owned property, calling it the "simplest solution." If the county insists on keeping the monument at the courthouse, "it would be hard-pressed to say no to other religious organizations that might want to display their ideals on a monolith."
Bradley said the county would like to resolve the matter as quickly and inexpensively as possible. "It's unfortunate that we spend so much time, effort and money on issues like this when we have so many more pressing matters."