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Chiefland officials aren’t saying much about the Ten Commandments monument that left City Hall more than a year ago, where it went or when it’s expected to come back, but they’re making plans for its return.
Commissioners, agreeing that a 2008 resolution accepting the donated monument from area businessman Joe Anderson didn’t set proper guidelines for the display of such a monument at City Hall, gave City Attorney Norm Fugate the go-ahead Monday night to part the seas of potential litigation through the drafting of a new-and-improved ordinance for reinstallation of the 6-ton granite stone.
The monument was trucked away shortly after the city and county were both hit with public records request in 2011 from the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that had successfully sued Dixie County in federal court in Gainesville for placing a monument next to the front door of that county’s courthouse.
The monument was a replica of the one in front of Chiefland City Hall, and shortly after the Dixie County decision Anderson sent a letter to the city saying his intent was to take the monument on a tour of the state so the public could partake in its “significance in American history.”
Mayor Teal Pomeroy said Monday night after the meeting he wasn’t sure where the monument had gone or when exactly it would return, but he added, “I’m very excited, and I hope it comes back soon.”
Fugate, referencing guidelines for such monuments now being used by Levy and Bradford counties, said Chiefland’s new ordinance should make considerations for where the monument will be placed.
“You need to designate some area … that would be sufficient to hold a number of monuments,” he told commissioners.
Commissioner Sammy Cason, in response, said that requests for any other monuments would have to be approved by the commission.
“Yes, but understand,” Fugate said, “the commission just can’t say ‘we don’t like this monument.’ ” If requests for monuments comply with the requirements, they would have to be allowed, he explained.
The ordinance is expected to come before the commission at its next regularly scheduled meeting April 8.
Monday night’s discussion comes on the heels of two other recent decisions on monuments donated by Anderson. In February, the same judge who had previously ruled the monument there unlawful agreed to the ACLU's request to voluntarily withdraw the suit. The ACLU said the “John Doe” figure they represented decided he would not, after all, move from North Carolina to Dixie County. U.S. District Judge Maurice M. Paul ruled that “Doe” no longer had any legal standing. The decision, however, does not rule out a future suit on the matter.
Bradford County, sued by the American Atheists Association after it unveiled another monument donated by Anderson in May 2012, recently won the right to keep its monument, though, like the proposal Chiefland is considering, some concessions were made.
“We reached a settlement in mediation,” said Bradford County Attorney Terence Brown in a phone interview last week. “They agreed to drop the lawsuit if they could erect a monument, as well.”
“Bradford County broke the law,” said American Atheists President David Silverman Monday afternoon, though adding he was happy with the decision to create a “free speech zone” in front of the courthouse there.
“It’s clearly illegal to prefer one religion over another. There are thousands of religions. Two use the Ten Commandments.”
Silverman also doesn’t buy the “historical significance” argument for Ten Commandment monuments made by people such as Anderson.
He said commandments such as “Thou shalt have no other god before me, Thou shalt not make unto me any graven image, and Thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy god in vain” all violate the First Amendment. “What do they have? Don’t steal? Don’t kill? These two, they predate the Old Testament by at least 1,000 years. When we start jailing people for working on Sundays, we’ll say the government is based on the Ten Commandments.
“This is all about Christian privilege,” Silverman said. “This is about them putting the Christian belief above the law of the land. It is illegal. It is immoral, and it is un-American.”