Originally created 07/08/06

No big rush to hang displays



WINDER, Ga. - July 1 has come and gone with few fireworks over a new state law that allows the Ten Commandments to hang on public grounds.

In the weeks and months leading up to July 1, Northeast Georgia leaders, including those in Barrow County, were leery to hang the Ten Commandments in a public building and draw the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which might challenge the display to test the new state law allowing "historic document displays."

Five days after the new state law that allows the Ten Commandments to hang as part of a "Foundations of American Law and Government" display, there is no push - at least not a public one - in Barrow or any other area counties to once again hang the Judeo-Christian doctrine in the courthouse or any other public building.

"Some of them probably have reservations about it," said Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, a co-sponsor of the new state law. "I think somebody will at some point. It'll wind up being the test case."

In September 2003, the ACLU - on behalf of an anonymous resident identified in court records as John Doe - sued Barrow County over a Ten Commandments display in the breezeway of the county's courthouse in Winder.

The county settled the case last July and agreed to remove the display and pay the anonymous resident $150,000 in legal fees. Hartwell-based Ten Commandments-Georgia raised the money to fund the county's fight, but not the settlement.

In response to the lawsuit, the Georgia General Assembly approved House Bill 941, which allows counties to display copies of historic documents, including the Ten Commandments, as part of the Foundations display.

But for now, it seems as if commissioners in Barrow County are a little gun-shy to hang such a display.

"I have not had a request either from any commissioners or from any citizens to move on that," Commission Chairman Doug Garrison said.

Proponents say the law allows counties to display the Ten Commandments to show influence on this country's legal history. Opponents say the law masks the true intention of allowing counties to hang the Commandments on public grounds.

In June 2005, the court struck down Ten Commandments displays in courthouses, holding that a pair of exhibits in Kentucky crossed the line between separation of church and state because they promoted a religious message. However, some displays, such as one in the Supreme Court, are allowed if they are portrayed neutrally in order to honor the nation's legal history, justices ruled.

A historic documents display isn't without regulations under the new state law.

All documents must be on at least 11x14-inch paper and framed identically, and no one document can be framed more prominently than another. Also, no state funding can be spent on the documents.

"We feel it's a way to be constitutional," Mr. England said. "The courts would ultimately have to make that decision if it's challenged."