Com­mand­ments set for vote in Idaho as court voids ’04 rul­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Joyce Howard Price

The Idaho Supreme Court has au­tho­rized the na­tion’s first bal­lot ini­tia­tive to let vot­ers de­cide whether a Boise pub­lic park should be al­lowed to have a Ten Com­mand­ments mon­u­ment, like the one re­moved two years ago.

The court’s 4-1 rul­ing on Aug. 14 over­turned an Oc­to­ber 2004 de­ci­sion by a lower court and an ear­lier de­ci­sion by the Boise City Coun­cil. The coun­cil had re­fused to put the ini­tia­tive on the Nov. 7 bal­lot, even though cit­i­zens had col­lected the 19,000 sig­na­tures re­quired to do so.

The coun­cil said the mat­ter was not a proper sub­ject for an ini­tia­tive be­cause the pe­ti­tion sought to im­ple­ment an ad­min­is­tra­tive act, not a leg­isla­tive one. In late 2004, state 4th Dis­trict Judge Ron­ald Wilper af­firmed the coun­cil’s de­ci­sion, rul­ing that the city was not re­quired to have a bal­lot ini­tia­tive in this case.

Sup­port­ers of the mon­u­ment ap­pealed to the state’s high­est court, which ruled that “it is pre­ma­ture to rule on whether the ini­tia­tive is valid or not, un­til it ac­tu­ally ex­ists,” said the Rev. Bryan Fis­cher. The court also held that a qual­i­fy­ing ques­tion should be on the bal­lot, said Mr. Fis­cher, cochair­man of the Keep the Com­mand­ments Coali­tion, which brought the law­suit against the city.

The court said in its ma­jor­ity opin­ion: “Just as the court would not in­ter­rupt the leg­is­la­ture in the con­sid­er­a­tion of a bill prior to en­act­ment, the court will not in­ter­rupt the con­sid­er­a­tion of a prop­erly qual­i­fied ini­tia­tive. The pe­ti­tion qual­i­fies for the bal­lot for con­sid­er­a­tion by the vot­ers.”

Mr. Fis­cher called the rul­ing “a dra­matic re­ver­sal of the tide” in which many courts have or­dered the re­moval of Ten Com­mand­ments dis­plays from pub­lic places.

“This could be a way to gen­er­ate fresh en­ergy in the di­rec­tion of ac­knowl­edg­ing God again in the pub­lic square,” Mr. Fis­cher, who also is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Idaho Val­ues Al­liance, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union has been a force in many court cases con­cern­ing such dis­plays — which the ACLU deems un­con­sti­tu­tional — but the le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tion was not in­volved in this case, Mr. Fis­cher said.

In the 1960s, Boise was one of hun­dreds of U.S. cities to re­ceive a gran­ite Ten Com­mand­ments mon­u­ment as a do­na­tion from the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Ea­gles.

“It was not given by a re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tion but by a sec­u­lar or­ga­ni­za­tion. The gift was in re­sponse to a ris­ing tide of ju­ve­nile delin­quency, and the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Ea­gles felt the Ten Com­mand­ments would be fine stan­dards to gov­ern the con­duct” of youths, Mr. Fis­cher said.

When Boise’s Ten Com­mand­ments dis­play was re­moved from the pub­lic park in 2004, it was re­lo­cated to the grounds of a cathe­dral in the city. It will re­main there, re­gard­less of the out­come of the ini­tia­tive.

If the bal­lot mea­sure passes, Mr. Fis­cher said, a new dis­play will be erected in Ju­lia Davis Park “on the same site” as the old mon­u­ment. He said the new dis­play will be iden­ti­cal to one in Po­catello, Idaho, which was ruled con­sti­tu­tional by a fed­eral judge when chal­lenged in court by the ACLU 11 years ago.

The new ver­sion will in­clude two mon­u­ments. One will list the Ten Com­mand­ments, and the sec­ond will com­mem­o­rate Thomas Jef­fer­son’s 1786 Vir­ginia Statute for Re­li­gious Free­dom.

Mr. Fis­cher said he is con­fi­dent of an Elec­tion Day vic­tory, “as all the polling data show 70 to 80 per­cent of the res­i­dents of Boise are in fa­vor of re­turn­ing the Ten Com­mand­ments” to the mu­nic­i­pal park.

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