Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Religious plaque removed from courthouse

Vol. 35 No. 4 May 2018
A religious plaque has been removed from the wall of this St. Louis County, Minn., courthouse after FFRF complained.                                                                                                           

After hearing from FFRF, a Minnesota county on March 5 removed a Ten Commandments plaque that was long on display in one of its courthouses.

It was brought to FFRF’s attention that Saint Louis County was prominently displaying a plaque that contained the Ten Commandments and a bible passage underneath the Saint Louis County seal in the county courthouse in Hibbing, Minn.

The plaque read, “God’s Laws,” with the commandments listed underneath and the biblical passage: “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” . . . Mark 12:30-31.

FFRF wrote to County Administrator Kevin Gray, warning the county that Ten Commandments displays within or near courtrooms unconstitutionally affiliate the justice system with biblical prohibitions rather than secular law.

“Given the content of the display, a reasonable observer would view it as an endorsement of religion,” wrote FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott. “The display directly connects Saint Louis County and the district court with Christianity.”

The Saint Louis County attorney’s office notified FFRF that the plaque had been removed.

“After careful consideration, a determination was made to remove the plaque from public display,” Gray said in a public statement. “As you might presume, the law and norms have developed considerably since the plaque was initially installed decades ago. 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.”

Kelly Grinsteinner of the Hibbing (Minn.) Daily Tribune asked Dana Kazel, St. Louis County communications manager, whether the county had received much feedback from the public on the topic.

“We don’t have an exact number because different people are contacting different offices or individuals, but it hasn’t been a huge amount,” Kazel to Grinsteinner. “We’ve also received several inquiries from people asking if they can have the plaque to display.”

After the plaque was removed from the courthouse walls, St. Louis County Commissioner Michael Jugovich, whose office is in the courthouse, attached it to his office wall.

“We want people to come take a look at it,” Jugovich told Grinsteinner. “We understand that this might not be their first choice, but it’s still in the building it belongs in. People should have the opportunity to see it. It looks good here, and we believe in the message it conveys.”

FFRF has filed an open records request into the issue and will be following up on the case.