HIBBING, Minn. — Officials at a Minnesota courthouse have removed a plaque featuring the Ten Commandments as the result of a letter submitted by one of the most conspicuous atheist activist organizations, which claimed that the display violated the U.S. Constitution.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently submitted a complaint to the administrator of Saint Louis County to request that the plaque, displayed at the county courthouse in Hibbing, be taken down.
The display, which was placed between two doors that lead to the courts of law, read “God’s Laws” at the top and featured each of the Ten Commandments. Underneath, it quoted from Jesus’ words in Mark 12:30-31, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength … You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The plaque had been posted at the courthouse for the past 60 years.
However, FFRF says that the display violates the Establishment Clause to the U.S. Constitution, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”
“Given the placement of the plaque next to courtrooms, its ‘God’s Law’ inscription, its inclusion of a New Testament passage, and its location within a county courthouse, it is unconstitutional and cannot remain on county property,” the group’s letter, written by attorney Patrick Elliott, read.
“Ten Commandments displays within or near courtrooms are especially concerning given the religious message they impart. They affiliate the justice system with biblical prohibitions, rather than our secular laws,” it continued. “They signal that the court is not impartial.”
FFRF further asserted that the first commandmandment also poses an issue because, it said, the government “has no business” telling its inhabitants what God they should serve.
“There are ample private and church grounds where this religious display may be freely placed,” Elliott wrote.
According to a press release posted to the Church-State separation group’s website on Thursday, FFRF was informed this week by the county attorney that the plaque has been removed.
“After careful consideration, a determination was made to remove the plaque from public display. As you might presume, the law and norms have developed considerably since the plaque was initially installed decades ago,” County Administrator Kevin Gray told Fox21 News in a statement.
“The county attorney’s office researched applicable law including relevant federal Supreme Court decisions on this topic, which contributed to the decision to direct property management to remove the plaque earlier this week,” he explained. “Removal of the plaque was scheduled during a time that would have the least disruption to courtroom and other courthouse activities.”
FFRF applauded the move, as FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor remarked in a statement, “It is grotesque to insinuate that the Ten Commandments are associated with a county government’s justice system in any way.”
However, as previously reported, for over 100 years in early America, those in the legal profession often looked to British judge William Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Laws of England,” which regularly pointed to Scripture—particularly the Torah—as the foundation for the law.
“Considering the Creator only as a being of infinite power, He was able unquestionably to have prescribed whatever laws He pleased to His creature, man …, ” Blackstone wrote in 1753. “But as He is also a being of infinite wisdom, He has laid down only such laws as were founded in those relations of justice, that existed in the nature of things antecedent to any positive precept. These are the eternal, immutable laws of good and evil, to which the Creator Himself in all His dispensations conforms; and which He has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions.”
“Such among others are these principles: that we should live honestly, should hurt nobody, and should render to everyone its due; to which three general precepts Justinian has reduced the whole doctrine of law,” he stated.
“If man were to live in a state of nature, unconnected with other individuals, there would be no occasion for any other laws, than the law of nature and the law of God. Neither could any other law possibly exist, for a law always supposes some superior who is to make it; and in a state of nature we are all equal, without any other superior but Him who is the Author of our being.”
As previously reported, officials in Lovingston, Virginia also recently voted to temporarily cover a plaque that read “Keep God’s Commandments” after the atheist group similarly lodged a complaint. However, a mayor in Tennessee rather decided to defy FFRF last July after the group requested that a Scripture posted to the walls of the Henderson County Courthouse in Lexington be removed.
“Our community is based on the belief of a true and living God,” Mayor Dan Hughes declared.