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