A whopping 72 percent of Alabama voters last week approved a constitutional amendment to allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed on state property. But with a history of judicial confusion and controversy, it was not a straightforward win. The American Civil Liberties Union said the amendment would not save the government from inevitable legal battles over future Biblical displays.
Alabama has fought a long, hard battle over Ten Commandments monuments. In 2003, then–Chief Justice of Alabama Roy Moore went around and around with the ACLU over a display of the commandments he had installed in the Alabama Judicial Building rotunda. The Alabama Court of the Judiciary removed Moore from office for defying a federal court order to take down the monument. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately declined to hear his case. Moore was elected chief justice again in 2012 and was removed from office in 2016 for directing state judges not to implement right away the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriage.
When it comes to public displays of the Ten Commandments, the Supreme Court has proved dodgy. It has at times ruled in favor of Ten Commandment monuments, but only narrowly. At other times, it has specifically ruled against the displays or declined to hear appeals, letting lower court rulings against the monuments stand. This happened most recently last year, when the high court turned down a request to hear a New Mexico Ten Commandments case, City of Bloomfield v. Felix. The uncertainty has led to lower court confusion on the issue. The new Alabama law may force the justices to finally lay down a broad ruling on the topic. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich
An Islamic community center in Troy, Mich., filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming the city unfairly blocked it from constructing a new building. The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed the suit on the center’s behalf.
The Adam Community Center, a nonprofit organization, sued the Troy City Council, the Troy Planning Commission, and members of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, claiming that they unfairly applied zoning restrictions to keep the group from building on a new site that would include spaces for prayer.
Five months earlier, the Troy Zoning Board of Appeals told representatives from the center that there was no place in the city where they could build, causing the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the board’s practices. City officials maintained they were justified in their decision because the building would require so many zoning variances. There have been at least two other similar cases in Detroit municipalities in the last two years.
The use of zoning codes to obstruct the building of houses of worship became so problematic two decades ago, Congress enacted the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) in 2000 by unanimous consent. The law prohibits land use regulations that impose a substantial burden on religious exercise without a compelling justification. This summer, the Justice Department announced it was stepping up enforcement of RLUIPA through its Place to Worship Initiative. —R.L.A.