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Our own Roy Moore

It seems we’ve got our own little battle brewing over religious displays in public places.

Citing concern over what she perceives as growing religious fundamentalism, a Houston woman filed suit Monday in federal court against Harris County, demanding it remove a King James Bible from a monument near the Fannin Street entrance of the civil courthouse.

The Bible, tattered and waterstained, has occupied the lighted display case since 1995, when an employee of then-state District Judge John Devine’s court undertook an effort to refurbish the neglected monument. The 4-foot-tall pedestal was erected in 1956 to honor industrialist William Mosher for his philanthropic contributions to the Star of Hope Homeless Programs.

“It’s unconstitutional and I expect our elected officials to follow the law,” said real estate agent Kay Staley, explaining her suit. Staley, who also is a lawyer, is a member of the Houston chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The lawsuit was filed by civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen.

Late last week, Kallinen indicated the lawsuit would be filed only if further negotiations with the county, started in May, proved fruitless. Early Monday, however, he announced he would move forward with the legal action.

For what it’s worth, I don’t feel quite as strongly about this as I do with Roy Moore and his Ten Commandments monument. The monument is smaller, it was apparently built to honor an individual, and it’s not quite as exclusive as the Protestant version of the Commandments that Moore has displayed. It’s not that I think this is appropriate, it’s just that there are bigger fish to fry.

Of course, the best argument against such monuments invariably come from their strongest proponents, who would surely be appalled if the icon in question came from a non-Christian faith. To wit:

Devine, who served as a civil court judge from 1995 to 2001, said refurbishing the monument became his “personal cause,” and he directed his staff in the work.

“We have this insane rush to eliminate every Christian tradition and symbol from our culture,” Devine said. “As much as the Bible is a religious text, it is a book of law. It’s always had a position in the courtroom since the early 1800s. Witnesses and jurors were sworn in on the Bible.”

Devine dismissed the concept of separation of church and state as “falsity,” saying it was supported neither in the Constitution nor Declaration of Independence.

“The Bible is not welcome anywhere in the American system, it appears,” Devine said. “I think that’s outrageous. It’s been here 200 years, and now someone has the harebrained idea it doesn’t belong.”

Devine, who first ran for judge on the campaign slogan “The court needs Devine intervention”, was one of the loopier judges in Harris County. He’s spent campaign funds on a wide assortment of religious and patriotic art, been reprimanded for displaying the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, confounded observers by resigning to make an unsuccessful run for the lower-prestige County Attorney’s office, and is now apparently the contact for a lawsuit-financing group. He’s gone from the bench (thankfully), but his essence apparently lives on.

UPDATE: Ginger has some more details about John Devine and his cohort Aubrey Vaughan.

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  1. John says:

    Isn’t the King James Bible just as exclusive as the Protestant 10 Commandments, if not more so? Certainly, Catholics don’t use the King James, and neither do many protestant denominations. And Jews, of course, are excluded…

    I agree, though, that, being a monument to an individual, and such, it’s not really as offensive as Judge Moore’s demagoguery.

  2. Rebecca says:

    I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about the Houston case, but portions of the New Testament in the King Jame’s Bible shed some light on just what kind of “Christian” Judge Moore is:

    KJV Matthew 21
    Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

    KJV Matthew 23
    Woe unto you, scribes, and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

    KJV Luke 18:9-14
    9. And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
    10. Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
    11. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican (tax-collector).
    12. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
    13. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
    14. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

    KJV Matthew 6:1-7
    1. Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
    2. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
    3. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
    4. That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
    5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
    6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
    7. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

    KJV Matthew 23:1-5
    1. Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
    2. Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:
    3. All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
    4. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
    5. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries (or, in Moore’s case, stone monuments), and enlarge the borders of their garments,

  3. Rebecca,

    Arguing that Matthew 21 somehow expresses an endorsement of total separation of government and religion seems kind of ridiculous… It was an expression that men owe their due to both God and secular authorities, not that the two must be held absolutely separate. You’re imposing a theory not justified by the text.

    Your other arguments are more valid, although you assume that Moore has prideful motives driving his crusade, which may not be the case. Furthermore, you assume that Moore has neglected other matters of faith, like the Pharissees, and I don’t know if that is true. He could be devout in all aspects of his life, and this is only the most public aspect of his faith.

  4. Houston: Dumb as Alabama

    The Chronk has a piece on Houston’s own Ten Commandments lawsuit this morning. Chuck Kuffner talked about this yesterday and…

  5. Matt says:

    I don’t care either way about this issue of whether this display is right or wrong. What I am sick and tired of is everybody taking ”’offense”’ over every little thing in the world today and filing a stupid lawsuit about it like that display was intentionally put there to OFFEND you! Get over it people, move on with your lives and stop being so emotionally upset! Get some psychiatric help if that’s what you need, but stop wasting our time and our tax dollars on your frivolous lawsuits!

  6. Matt says:

    Update: Oh yay, Kay Staley won her stupid lawsuit and now taxpayers are doling out almost $40,000 in attorney’s fees and court costs alone just because this woman was offended by something she admits she had not even seen before she filed the suit. Add that to the costs of removing this monument and it’s a load of BS tax dollar waste that could have gone towards something more productive like hmm, school funding anybody?

  7. Alice Cox says:

    I know this woman, Kay Staley personally. I think she’s a really nice person but I in NO way agree with what she has to say or do, especially removing the Bible from the case at the courthouse. I didn’t think that she was an athiest and would do this kind of thing. What a shame!

  8. Lawstudent says:

    I completely agree that the number of lawsuits in this country that are baseless and frivolous is out of control. However, this case is about more than a Bible on display in a public place. This case concerns a fundamental cornerstone of our society, the Constitution. Our forefathers came from extreme religious persecution, from a place and time where one church existed as far as the government was concerned and if citizens did not agree they could be exiled or, even worse, killed. While Staley’s claim may be completely baseless, I personally think that what Judge Devine has done is the essence of church/state entanglement, which is prohibited by the First Amendment. It is a shame that the tax payers must bear the burden of his carelessness and I definitely agree that tax money is much better spent on important issues like school funding. I just happen to be writing a law review article on an issue that arises from this case and wanted to throw some knowledge (preliminary as it may be) out there.