Ten Commandments tablet sparks lawsuit



Everett, WA - The legal battle over the "thou shalts" has come to Everett.

A local man, backed by a Washington, D.C., group promoting separation of church and state, wants a federal judge to order Everett to remove a 6-foot granite rendition of the Ten Commandments. The monolith has stood in front of old city hall for 43 years.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, comes as the nasty battle over religion and government grows. Courts have ordered small towns in Ohio and Indiana to remove their commandment displays. A court told the state of Kentucky no for its plan to display the commandments.

Now the U.S. Supreme Court may soon have to decide whether the Ten Commandments should be seen in Alabama's judicial center. The nation's highest court already must make the call on whether the deity may be invoked in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Washington, D.C.-based group is suing Everett on behalf of Jesse Card, an Everett resident who says the display, which sits in front of what is now the police station, offends him. Everett City Attorney Mark Soine said yesterday that Card and his pro bono attorneys are likely to face a fight from the city.

The suit, filed for Card by attorneys under the auspices of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, wants a judge to declare that displaying the Ten Commandments on public property is a violation of First Amendment protections of freedom of religion.

It's not as if Everett didn't know a fight was brewing. The American Civil Liberties Union called for the monument's removal two years ago. Almost 10 years ago, a retired teacher launched a fruitless campaign to bring down the granite. And Americans United said it, too, has asked the city to remove the commandments.

If Everett does choose to fight Card, it may face a tough battle. The Ten Commandments have not fared well in federal courts. The courts have held that while low-key depictions of the Judeo-Christian code of conduct are acceptable, blatant presentations are not.

Thus, a ceiling frieze on the U.S. Supreme Court's own chambers that includes the tablets along with other representations of law, is OK. But an Alabama Supreme Court chief justice was recently ordered by a federal court to haul away a 2.5-ton granite depiction prominently housed in that state's judicial center.

Soine said yesterday that the commandments are not meant to further any religious interest.

"It's certainly not the city's intent, presently or in the past, that this monument promote religion," he said. "I expect that we're going to fight the lawsuit."

The suit says: "Mr. Card is offended by the Ten Commandments display in front of the old city hall because it conveys a message of state endorsements of religion in general, and a specific religious viewpoint in particular, and thereby ostracizes citizens who do not conform to the religious beliefs that the monument expresses."

Card, who could not be reached for comment last night, tries to avoid seeing "this sectarian religious display," according to the lawsuit.

But he lives only two blocks away, and often must pass it.


The granite tablets -- and ones like them all over the country -- proliferated when movie producer Cecil B. DeMille, who created the epic film "The Ten Commandments," teamed up with a Minnesota judge and local chapters of the Fraternal Order of Eagles to finance the construction of monuments and donate them to local communities, according to the lawsuit. The Everett Aerie of the Fraternal Order of Eagles donated the tablets to the city in 1959.


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