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Patrick Springer, Published July 22 2009

Fargo seeks dismissal of monument lawsuit

The city of Fargo is asking for the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging its display of the Ten Commandments by the Red River Valley Freethinkers.

The city argues that the Freethinkers lack the legal standing to challenge the constitutionality of the display, upheld in an earlier court challenge by the group.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court, the city argues that the Freethinkers have no taxpayer claim to challenge the monuments, located on the mall outside City Hall.

Also, the city contends in its motion for dismissal that the Freethinkers cannot identify a harm caused by the display of the monument apart from “psychological discomfort.”

Two years ago, city commissioners adopted an ordinance barring the removal of any marker or monument that has been on city property for 40 or more years.

The move came in response to a referred ordinance by monument supporters, who submitted the proposed ordinance and petition signatures after city commissioners decided to donate the Ten Commandments marker to a private organization.

The city backed away from its decision to give the controversial monument away, and the marker has remained on the mall, where it was erected in 1961 after it was given to the city by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1958.

In their lawsuit, the Freethinkers, whose members are agnostic or atheistic, contend that the city violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of an “establishment” of religion when it decided to display the monuments after all.

In an earlier case, also arguing that displaying the monument violated the First Amendment’s clause barring religious establishment, U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson decided in 2005 that the monument was legal.

The Freethinkers have proposed a sister monument, with an inscription from the U.S. 1897 Treaty of Tripoli, which said, in part:

“The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522