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Ten Commandments to remain in Wyoming County, prosecutor says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Wyoming County's prosecuting attorney said Tuesday that a monument to the Ten Commandments would remain on the courthouse lawn despite concerns that it promotes one religion over another.

A group of church leaders raised money and built the monument in front of the courthouse last week, County Commission President Jason Mullins said last week. Mullins said the church leaders did not ask permission from the county commission before building the monument on public land.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it would seek to remove the monument because it discriminates against non-believers and religious minorities.

Wyoming County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Cochrane said he researched the topic and advised the County Commission to leave it alone for now.

Cochrane said the issue is whether the monument promotes Christianity over other religions, and he doesn't think it does.

The group who raised money and erected the monument wanted to spread a message of good morality and not Christianity, he said.

"I researched different religions as far as whether the Ten Commandments is discriminatory or not," Cochrane said. "Basically a type of Ten Commandments is cut across a lot of religions."

The Ten Commandments have origins in Judaism and parallel scriptures appear in Islamic texts, he said.

The monument in Wyoming County lists the biblical Ten Commandments and associated scriptures from the King James Bible. The monument also reads that the Ten Commandments are: "the laws of GOD for all men. They are anointed by GOD JEHOVA as a promise of everlasting life<t40>...<t$>"

Cochrane asked his Facebook friends for feedback and about 280 people of 300 responded in favor of the monument. Those who opposed feared it violates separation of church and state, he said.

"The true sense of what is the separation of church and state is the idea of the government putting one religion over another," he said. "This case is a little bit different than what most people think of separation of church and state."

The monument promotes laws that are based on some of the commandments and not any religion, he said. Also many people recognize the Ten Commandments as a universal code of conduct.

He said he's in favor of building more monuments to other beliefs. An atheist group recently won the right to erect a monument to atheism in front of a Florida courthouse.

"If that's what it took for peace and tranquility, then I am for it," he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that a 40-year-old monument of the Ten Commandments on a Texas courthouse lawn did not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment because the monument itself has historical value. The court has ruled less favorably on newer monuments because they are viewed as clear endorsements of religion.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 19 percent of the West Virginia population identifies as unaffiliated with a major religion. While a majority polled identified as Protestant Christian, about 2 percent identified as Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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