AHA News |  

Humanist Tenets Subverted in Court

October 8, 2008 

For Immediate Release - Contact Roy Speckhardt at (202) 238-9088
rspeckhardt@americanhumanist.org - www.americanhumanist.org

The American Humanist Association today expressed support for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which filed a lawsuit against Richland County Common Pleas Court Judge James DeWeese for hanging a poster in his courtroom that displays "Humanist Principles" with the Ten Commandments. The ACLU argues that the poster is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

"Moral codes that favor particular religious viewpoints have no place in a court room, regardless of whether they're from the Bible or even a Humanist Manifesto," said Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association and a Constitutional lawyer. "The only code that is relevant or appropriate in a court of law is the law."

The humanist principles in Richland County's poster are primarily taken from the outdated Humanist Manifesto I, which was replaced by Humanist Manifesto II in 1973, and most recently by Humanist Manifesto III, written in 2003.

Included as principles are selected quotes from notable humanists. The Humanist Principles are presented as moral relatives and the Ten Commandments as moral absolutes. The poster also contains a statement from Judge DeWeese declaring: "The cases passing through this courtroom demonstrate we are paying a high cost in increased crime and other social ills for moving from moral absolutism to moral relativism since the mid 20th century ... I join the Founders in personally acknowledging the importance of Almighty God's fixed moral standards for restoring the moral fabric of this nation."

"Judge DeWeese is attempting an end-run around the Constitution while pushing his own religious agenda," commented Lipman. "He's displaying tenets of two religious perspectives in an ostentatious attempt to put them on equal footing. But in fact what he's doing is worse than simply displaying the Ten Commandments by themselves; he's clearly endorsing Christianity over humanism and other religious or ethical philosophies."

The seventh humanist principle listed on the poster is a quote from Princeton University Professor Peter Singer that reads, "Quality-of-life decisions justify assisting the death of a fetus, defective infant, profoundly disabled or terminally ill person."

"Judge DeWeese's poster misrepresents humanism, and the inclusion of the seventh humanist principle is baffling," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the AHA. "Not only is it not a tenet of humanism, and something we would harshly condemn, it's a quote that's out of context. Judge DeWeese has cherry picked these tenets to create a caricature of what we actually stand for. We'll support the ACLU's efforts to halt this and any other attempts to meld church and state."

The AHA's legal arm, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, recently submitted a friend of the court brief in "Pleasant Grove City v. Summum," a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, stating: "The requirement of government neutrality with respect to religion prohibits the display of permanent religious monuments on public property."

This is not the first time Judge DeWeese has been ordered to remove the Ten Commandments from his courtroom. He has repeatedly posted documents that promote one religion over another. In 2002 the ACLU successfully sued him over another Ten Commandments display.

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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

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