Utah's Society of Separationists formally "invited" Salt Lake County commissioners Wednesday to remove the Ten Commandments monument at the Metropolitan Hall of Justice.
In a three-page letter to commissioners, society representative Chris Allen wrote, "If you act now and remove the Ten Commandments monument voluntarily, you will demonstrate a commitment to defending our right to decide religious issues privately without government intrusion."If you wait for the courts to order you to do it, you will come off looking like the religious bigots in Cobb County, Georgia."
Though they took no vote on the issue, commissioners seemed inclined to wait. "I personally support leaving it where it is," Commission Chairman Jim Bradley said.
The commission probably has a legal leg to stand on because a federal court ruling that saved the monument in 1972 still stands, said Chief Civil Deputy County Attorney William R. Hyde.
After lying dormant for 22 years, the controversy over the monument was rekindled by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that let stand an 11th Circuit Court ruling ordering the removal of a Ten Com-mand-ments plaque in a Cobb County, Ga., courthouse.
The 11th Circuit judges said the plaque violated the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. The ruling implied the plaque might have survived the legal challenge if it had been part of a broader exhibit of historical and secular documents dealing with the history of law.
In the Utah case, the 10th Circuit Court didn't articulate its reasoning, which reversed a federal District Court ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court did not resolve the apparent contradiction between the two circuits.
Hyde said his office will review Allen's letter, but he indicated to commissioners Wednesday that it seems clear that the 1972 decision is the controlling decision as far as Utah is concerned.
Commissioner Brent Overson agrees with Hyde's assessment and says he, too, supports leaving the monument where it is even if it means a court fight.
"We won't turn tail and run," Overson said. "We have a court case in our favor. They (separationists) will be hard pressed to apply the 11th Circuit action to Utah."
Overson also said the county may have an ace up its sleeve. "If we have to, I would be willing to sell that little piece of land the monument sits on and have it held in trust with a reversion clause."
In any event, the dispute could be moot within a few years when the courts move from 200 E. 400 South to a a new state courts complex two blocks west.