Ten Commandments monument can stay in Everett, court says

EVERETT — A five-year battle to preserve a granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments outside the Everett Police Department may finally be over.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday affirmed a 2005 decision by a federal judge in Seattle, saying that the monument doesn’t violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

The mood at City Hall was joyful on Thursday.

“We have contended that the monument has historic value and the court’s decision shows that is a significant argument,” Mayor Ray Stephanson said Thursday.

The fight has been costly, and now “we’re hoping that the legal battle is over at this point,” city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.

The legal battle brought by Everett resident Jesse Card began in 2003 with an attempt to have the 6-foot-tall monument removed.

The city resisted and so far has spent about $190,000 to keep it in front of the old Everett City Hall, which is the current police department, Reardon said.

Card was joined by several private attorneys around the country as well as the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He could not be reached for comment.

In Seattle, lawyer Marc Slonim, who represented Card, said there is no decision whether to ask the Appeals Court to reconsider the ruling or to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision, Slonim said, is similar to the 2005 ruling reached by U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik in Seattle.

“It was crafted narrowly, I thought, to deal with this case. It doesn’t necessarily address other displays of the Ten Commandments or other church-state issues. As I read it, it’s limited to this particular display or one similar to it.”

The appeal to the 9th Circuit was launched after the Supreme Court said that two courthouse displays of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky had to be removed, but one on the statehouse grounds in Texas could remain because it is associated with many other monuments.

“Basically the (Appeals) Court said this is more like the Texas case than the other one,” Slonim said.

Lasnik and the appeals panel both noted that the Ten Commandments monument in Everett is accompanied by other secular monuments in the area of City Hall and the nearby Snohomish County Courthouse. A war memorial is erected next to the Ten Commandments location.

In Washington, D.C., lawyer Ayesha Kahn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said Wednesday’s decision is “another indication of the federal courts departing from maintaining a healthy distance between religion and government. The federal courts have been increasingly hostile to the notion there ought to be that separation.”

She said she’s troubled by the trend.

The city looks at the monument as part of its history, not a religious symbol.

The monument was a gift to Everett in 1959 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. At one time it was located directly on the corner of Wall Street and Wetmore Avenue, but it was moved a few feet in 1988 to make way for the war memorial.

Its current location is obscured from view by shrubs.

Everett’s monument was erected as part of a nationwide drive by the Eagles to “inspire young people and curb juvenile delinquency by providing children with a moral code of conduct to govern their actions,” Lasnik wrote in his earlier decision.

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or jhaley@heraldnet.com.

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