Ten Commandments monument, parkland sale sought in Md. Would end fight about memorial

By David Dishneau Associated Press Nov. 23, 2002

FREDERICK, Md. - The city has decided to sell a sliver of parkland containing a Ten Commandments monument, hoping to render moot a lawsuit challenging the marker's constitutionality.

Mayor Jennifer Dougherty said Friday that an agreement would be drafted soon to sell the 10- by- 50-foot parcel to one of several private parties who have expressed interest in helping resolve the dispute. The parcel will be sold for its assessed value of $6,700, she said.

Opponents of the sale urged the city to fight the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which contended in its August lawsuit that the monument violates the First Amendment prohibition against state-sponsored religion.

"We think the city is doing the citizens of Frederick a great disservice by not standing up for our constitutional right to keep the Ten Commandments monument on public property in a public graveyard," said Neil Parrott, president of the Friends of Frederick Foundation. He urged private groups not to buy the parcel.

ACLU attorney David Rocah said it would be premature to comment on a potential sale. The ACLU had recommended selling the land as one way the city could address its concerns.

Dougherty said a sale would ensure that the five-foot-tall granite monument remains on the property, part of a 19th-century graveyard. The land was a memorial park until August, when the city reclassified it as a historic cemetery in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid a lawsuit.

The case is one of many in which the ACLU has sought removal of Ten Commandments tablets donated to local governments in the 1950s by local chapters of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. Monuments and other images of the Ten Commandments have come down or been covered up in Kentucky and Colorado, and similar battles continue in at least six states.

On Monday, a federal judge in Alabama ordered a Ten Commandments monument removed from that state's judicial building, saying it violates the separation of church and state.

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