August 11, 2004
Bible display to be removed

The lawsuit to remove a Bible display from outside the Harris County Civil Court building (first noted here) has been decided for the plaintiff, with an appeal pending. As I noted in my original post, I support this ruling, though I can't say it's high on my priority list. Given that Harris County is already on the hook for court costs, and given the probability that the ruling will ultimately be upheld, I wish they'd cut their losses and quit wasting my tax money on this frivolity. But this is a red-meat issue for the GOP, and County Attorney Stafford knows where his bread is buttered.

As always, former judge John Devine provides a little unintentional comedy:

Former state District Judge John Devine, a leader of the drive to restore the monument from its dilapidated state, disagreed. "The Bible is a book of three faiths," he said, citing Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

For some reason, this quote reminds me of that classic line from The Blues Brothers: "We got both kinds, country AND western!" I also suspect there might be a few Jews and Muslims who'd take exception to that claim. But who's counting?

Milton brings his non-Christian perspective to the case. It's worth your time to read it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 11, 2004 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

But this is a red-meat issue for the GOP, and County Attorney Stafford knows where his bread is buttered.

I hate little statements like this.

I'm sure it excites your partisan regulars, but do you really think every issue reduces to pols knowing where their "bread is buttered" as you put it? Or is it just Republicans who are so afflicted?

Do you think it's possible that some folks might really believe that the First Amendment doesn't require "strict separation," and that the recent secular view that it does is contrary to most everything we know about the development of American constituitonalism? And that some pols might find that traditional constitutional view worth defending?

Do you think it's possible that a non-religious person like myself might actually hold that principled view, and that nobody buttered any of my bread to get me to think that (well, no donors anyway -- just a lot of textual analysis of a lot of documents and thinkers)?

Not that I don't like buttered bread. I like it a lot. Crusty, hearty bread. And real butter (none of this unhealthy hydrogenated margarine crap). You might be able to make the case that the bread/butter lobby COULD buy me if I were in office. :)

You're a reasonable guy. I guess that's why little comments like that bother me more when I see them here. I expect to see them on lefty true believer sites (and digs in the other direction on righty true believer sites). But I'm always a little surprised to find them here.

Posted by: kevin whited on August 12, 2004 7:57 AM

I've talked to my Muslim coworkers about the Bible, to see how Islam looks at it. It just isn't the same as how Christians and Jews consider those books. Muslims do not study the bible, and rarely reference it. Even the great stories that underly Western literature are foreign to Muslims (at least Egyptians--my coworkers were from Egypt). It makes it difficult for me to picture Allah as being the same being as the Lord in the bible.

Posted by: B. K. Oxley (binkley) on August 12, 2004 9:27 AM

Personally, I'm glad Stafford is pursuing this (even though it's a waste of money).

I expect the 5th Circuit to overturn Lake. At this point, the Supremes will almost be forced to reconcile the positions of the 11th Circuit (Moore) and the 5th Circuit. This one I'll bet on - the Supremes refused to accept Moore's appeal of the district court's order.

Apropos Kevin. Consider an attempt to put a Koran or Talmud in the same location. Do you really think the Christian right would support this as a freedom of religion issue? Nah, I didn't think so.

Posted by: Charles M on August 12, 2004 10:46 AM

OK, Kevin

I'll bite: if you're not religious, why would you support a Bible display in a public building?
What benefit does it offer the public?
Do you not see any costs or problems associated with such an action?

Posted by: Doubting Thomas on August 12, 2004 1:19 PM

For the record, Judge Lake is rarely reversed. He (deservedly, IMO) commands an enormous reservoir of respect both among the Bar and among judges, as far as I can tell.

Plus, his decision, based on the applicable law, was an easy one, just as was the Roy Moore decision.

Regardless of what one thinks of the applicable law, I think it unlikely the 5th Circuit will reverse, but that's JMO.

Posted by: TP on August 12, 2004 1:40 PM

"I wish they'd cut their losses and quit wasting my tax money on this frivolity."

YOU wish they'd stop wasting tax money on this frivolity? The monument has been there for 50 years not bothering anybody. Why bother it now?

Who's wasting the tax money is the one who started this frivolous lawsuit, Kay Staley and all those who are so easily "offended" today.

As I have stated before, stop being so emotionally upset people. The constitution does not grant you the right to "not be offended". I am offended by all the frivolous lawsuits brought about by those people who are so easily offended, but I'm not out there suing them! Get over it, and move on with your lives and stop wasting our tax dollars on your frivolous lawsuits because you are easily offended.

As for putting a Quran or other such holy book on that monument, that's a cop out. The Bible was put there to represent Mr. Mosher's beliefs. It is only part of the whole monument which was dedicated to this man for what he did. Why does it offend people only now, after being there for 50 years?

Posted by: Matt on August 12, 2004 1:51 PM


The fact that the monument has been there for 50 years has nothing to do with its constitutionality. Moreover, the fact that no one has challenged it in 50 years does not imply that no one has been offended by it until now. It just means that no one has brought a challenge before now. If you ask 'why bring this challenge now,', I ask you, why not?

If you say, 'shouldn't it have been brought years ago,' I would say, 'Certainly.' But that has nothing to do with whether it is constitutional under the current challenge.

It's true that merely because the monument offends me does not mean it is unconstitutional, but that's certainly not why I believe it to be unconstitutional. I am pleased to observe, however, that in this case my own personal mores and those I believe to be codifed in the Constitution coalesce. It's a remarkable document, really, and I say that knowing full well a great many of my mores are not instantiated by the Constitution.

And regardless of whether you agree with the result or the law that governed this case, I can assure you that the suit is not "frivolous." In fact, it is pretty obvious, under the current state of the law, that the monument is unconstitutional. A decision in accordance with that law is not frivolous, nor is legal action pointing it out.

Just because you find the lawsuit and/or the law supporting it wrong or odious does not make the suit frivolous.

The Bible was put there to honor Mr. Mosher's "godliness," according to the man who erected it, Carloss Morriss. Obviously, to those who erected it, Mr. Moscher's godliness is a function of his Christianity. That's a patent violation of the First Amendment under the current law.

There is ample room for debate on what the law ought to be, or on what the Constitition brings to bear, but far less so on what it currently is. And of course, a district court judge is bound to follow the precedent issued by the higher courts, and what that precedent itself means is pretty clear in a case like this. So nothing about the decision itself (as opposed to the underlying issue of what the Constitution really says on the matter) is remotely controversial.

Posted by: TP on August 12, 2004 4:08 PM

Mr. TP

I could care less about the law of the matter, and it's not that I support the bible. Like you, I am not a Christian, truth to tell, I do not consider myself very religious at all in any form.

The main point of my post was that people get offended too easily. You are offended by Christian signs and symbols because you don't support the Christian faith, that's fine. I, however, am not offended by it, in fact, about the only time I am offended by it is when I tell them (Christians) not to push their religious lectures on me and then they persist to do so anyway.

It's fine to be offended, that means you care, that you are alive. But for crying out loud, stop wasting our time and tax dollars pushing these frivolous, yes I do believe 90% of them to be frivolous, lawsuits on us just because something offends you.

In the case of this particular monument, I don't have all the facts, as this is not my life to sit and research every little nuance of cases such as this, but I do believe this was donated by a private organization and it's original OVERALL intent was not religious. So what if the man was "godly", who cares? The reason nobody had a problem with it until now is that that organization was the original maintainer of the monument until they stopped doing so and a judge stepped in recently to restore it. I also heard that the judge in question that is trying to restore it is using private funds to do so. Just because this person works for the county, it's all of a sudden taboo?

Are we seriously going to go around the country and take down every religious symbol in sight, no matter what religion it may be? No, I think not, I have noticed just one religion being seriously persecuted in the US lately, or at least it's the one that gets the most publicity anyway.

Posted by: Matt on August 12, 2004 4:29 PM


I understand your point, and though it has merit in general, I respectfully disagree with it in this case. I simply do not think this is a case of having skin that is not thick enough.

As for this case, you're not quite right on the facts. The witnesseses who testified basically admitted that the monument has a religious purpose (in addition to a secular one). The test is one of "excessive entanglement." If a secular purpose is excessively entangled with a nonsecular purpose, then the monument is unconstitutional, under the current law.

Religious symbols can be erected on private property until the cows come home. But if you're going to do that on public property--be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Scientologist, whatever--it offends both the current state of the law and what I believe to be the proper view of the Constitution.

The reason it is mostly Christian signs and symbols being assailed is b/c, at least in part, IMO, this is a Christian nation, and the vast majority of religious symbols are, in fact, Christian. IMO.

Posted by: TP on August 12, 2004 6:18 PM

I'd like to point out that there are more buddhists than any other religious population on this planet, and speaking as a buddhist, we don't acknowledge the bible as anything other than a source of delusion and suffering.

Posted by: Charles E on August 13, 2004 3:52 AM

I don't know if that's true or not, but it sure made me have a good laugh, thanks Charles E!

Posted by: Matt on August 13, 2004 3:26 PM

On that topic (of the previous two comments), I think it's about time we let Muslims and anyone else define their own religious beliefs for themselves. I'm always so amused by people who demand removal of a statue with a pig in it (to quote a recent UK example) on behalf of Muslims who they just know will be offended, and then the local Muslims come forward and say, look, we're not that silly! And people who think it's very welcoming and tolerant to say, "the Bible is just as holy for Muslims, and we don't have a sole claim to it," and then the fellow next to them pipes up and says, "nah, not really; it's a vaguely related book, that's all." Or who find it very progressive and pluralist to say, "all religions have the same belief about God, and they've all got the same moral code, so we'll all go to Heaven together," and nearly everyone else jumps in with a "my religion doesn't have a god," or "my moral code's a heck of a lot different from yours," or "in my religion, salvation's not based on works," or "heaven? aren't you bringing a bit of anti-reincarnation/whatnot bias into this?" and so forth.

Let's just all talk about what our own beliefs are, without presuming to tell other people what they believe :).

Posted by: Adrianne Truett on August 18, 2004 5:13 AM