Originally created 09/13/03

Court to keep commandments



WINDER, Ga. - Barrow County officials vowed to keep a parchment copy of the Ten Commandments in their courthouse, despite plans by the American Civil Liberties Union to sue for its removal.

"We've been negotiating with them, trying to work with the county, and unfortunately it appears they're going to maintain the Ten Commandments display contrary to the law," Maggie Garrett, a staff attorney at ACLU Georgia, said Friday.

The ACLU threatened to file a federal lawsuit if officials didn't take down the poster by Friday, but no legal action had been taken by late afternoon. Ms. Garrett wouldn't confirm whether the group planned to file suit.

Barrow County spokeswoman Lane Downs said officials were waiting for the ACLU to make the first move before planning their own legal strategy.

"We're just taking it one day at a time and seeing what will happen," she said.

About a year ago, an unknown benefactor donated the framed poster, which hangs on a wall in a breezeway of the county courthouse in Winder, about 40 miles east of Atlanta.

The ACLU wrote officials a letter in June, citing a complaint from an unnamed Barrow County resident who felt uncomfortable seeing the Ten Commandments in the courthouse.

During a public hearing later that month, county commissioners voted unanimously to keep the display. Chairman Walter E. Elder III said Thursday the county had no plans to remove it.

The ACLU's deadline prompted several hundred supporters to gather outside the courthouse Thursday in a rally attended by Alan Keyes, a 2000 Republican presidential candidate and a former U.S. representative at the United Nations. Mr. Keyes also has thrown his support behind Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was suspended last month for refusing to obey a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.

Ms. Downs said officials didn't expect a similar result because their display is much less prominent than the 5,300-pound granite marker in Alabama.

"A lot of people don't even realize it's there," Ms. Downs said. "It's just a very inconspicuous place. It's not like you have a two-ton monument out front."