In 1958, the Fraternal Order of Eagles put up a Ten Commandments monument just outside the Somersworth City Hall in New Hampshire. It stayed there without incident for decades; it was illegal, no doubt, but no one ever filed a lawsuit.
Then, this past August, someone vandalized it. Whoever did it broke the monument off of its base, causing it to topple over. That’s certainly not something anyone should condone, but city officials had to decide what to do: Should they replace the monument or just let it go?
They chose to replace it. And just to make sure it was compliant with the law, officials surrounded it with a sign “outlining the history, role and purpose of the monument” and a couple of flagpoles. See? Totally not a promotion of Christianity… Even though it’s arguably more of a promotion of Christianity now than ever before.
Two members of the City Council understood how irrational the new proposal was:
The two councilors who voted against the measure were Jessica Paradis and Jennifer Soldati. Soldati suggested that adding a marker and flags to the island would actually increase the sense of endorsement.
“I find that this notion that you can somehow put a document next to it and neutralize it has not been held up by the courts,” Soldati said.
“Democracy is not about majority rule, it is the rights of the minority being protected against the tyranny of the majority,” Soldati said. “I understand the sentimentality, I get it. But I am a staunch believer in our constitution and I do believe that we are in violation.”
They were in the minority, though. The proposal passed and the monument went back up this past Sunday:
In discussing whether the monument should be put back, Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard said he had already been in conversation with the city manager and legal counsel about the constitutional questions. Hilliard said at the time that they had determined a plaque acknowledging the historical significance could mitigate the constitutional question.
On Wednesday, High Flying Flags of Greenland installed the two flagpoles and the plaque will come later. The cost to re-install the stone is being offset by donations.
They need a new lawyer. Anyone who understands the legal side of church/state separation issues knows that a one-off Ten Commandments monument has been illegal just about everywhere. The only time it gets a pass on government property is when it’s surrounded by other historical monuments, effectively downplaying the role of the Ten Commandments themselves since they’re one of many displays.
If anyone who lives in the area decides to sue, the city stands to lose a lot of money.
But don’t let it be said nobody warned them. Two members of the City Council told them this was a bad move and they went through with it anyway. It was a dumb move. And the second time in the same week when the warnings of people who know what they’re talking about were ignored by fools who made a decision with their guts even though it went against their best interests.
(Image via Google Maps. Thanks to Katherine for the link)