Dispute Over Bible Display At Texas Courthouse Comes To An End At Supreme Court

High Court Refuses To Re-open Religious Symbol Case

A dispute over the display of an open Bible at a Texas courthouse came to an end today when the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the case.

The legal battle centered over a display in front of the Harris County Courthouse. Originally erected in 1956 by a Christian charity to honor William S. Mosher, a Houston businessman and philanthropist, the memorial is a glass-topped case housing an open Bible lighted by neon.

“Courthouses are not the place for religious symbols,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Government should never send a message that a person’s belief about religion is a factor in a hall of justice.”

A federal trial court ruled the Bible display a violation of church-state separation, and a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld that decision in August of 2006.

County officials then sought review of the panel’s decision by the full “en banc” 5th Circuit. While the case was under consideration by the en banc court, however, the county removed the display as part of a renovation of the courthouse.

County officials then argued to the en banc court that the case had become moot, that the lower court’s ruling should be vacated and that the plaintiff should be denied attorneys’ fees. The en banc court agreed that the case is moot, but refused to vacate the trial court’s decision or to deny the plaintiff fees.

Now, the Supreme Court has said it will not hear an appeal by the county to address the en banc court’s ruling.

Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan argued the Harris County v. Staley case before the 5th Circuit panel on behalf of Kay Staley, a county resident and attorney who frequently does business at the courthouse.

“We are glad that the Supreme Court has put an end to the county’s irresponsible decision to continue litigating this case despite having lost at every step,” said Khan.

“This is a victory for church-state separation because it ensures that the monument cannot be returned to its former location, but it is a sad day for the taxpayers of Harris County, who will have to pay for their leaders’ folly,” Khan added.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.