Wednesday, October 13, 2004

A True American Hero

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to hear a challenge to a Ten Commandments monument that sits on the Texas Capitol grounds represents the completion of one man's remarkable odyssey.

Plaintiff Thomas Van Orden is homeless, lives in the woods here, carries all of his possessions in a duffel bag with a broken zipper and typically eats every other day to save money. For the last three years, he has pieced together his case at a borrowed desk in the basement of a public library.
"I am who I am," Van Orden said in an interview last year.

Three years ago, he sued the state in federal court. His suit contends that a 5-foot-tall monolith inscribed with the Ten Commandments — beginning with "I am the Lord thy God" — violates the 1st Amendment's ban on "establishment of religion."

In 2002, a federal judge ruled that the monument had a "valid secular purpose," and last year the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed. The Supreme Court accepted Van Orden's appeal Tuesday; it will be heard in February.
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