February 1, 2005
Gov. Janet Napolitano joined Monday with a group that promotes what it calls "pro-family’’ legislation in Arizona in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to let a six-foot monument of the Ten Commandments remain in a public park across the street from the state Capitol.
The brief, filed by the Scottsdale-based Center for Arizona Policy, said these kinds of monuments have "a valid secular purpose.’’ Peter Gentala, the organization’s legal counsel, got not only the governor to join in the plea but also Secretary of State Jan Brewer and 38 of the 90 state lawmakers.
Officially, the case before the nation’s high court relates to a monument in Austin, Texas. A federal appeals court has rejected efforts to have it removed.
There is a similar monument in Wesley Bolin Memorial Park, east of the House and Senate buildings. Any ruling on the legality of the Texas monument will determine the fate of its Phoenix counterpart.
The decision by Napolitano came as no surprise to Eleanor Eisenberg, director of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
She noted the governor opposed efforts by her organization two years ago to have the monument removed. A lawsuit threatened at that time has been held in abeyance awaiting the outcome of the Texas case.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments March 2.
Tim Nelson, the governor’s chief counsel, said Napolitano does not believe the monument amounts to a state endorsement of religion, something that is prohibited by the First Amendment.
"It’s one of many, many monuments out there’’ in the park, Nelson said. Others include a monument to Armenians martyred in Turkey in the last century and another to Jewish war veterans.
"One is not more prominent than the other,’’ Nelson said. Gentala, in his legal papers, said there is no reason to move the Arizona monument. "Like Texas, the people of Arizona, by the decision of their elected officials, display a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of their State Capitol,’’ he wrote. "Arizona’s Ten Commandments monument is one of the many ways the State acknowledges the role of religious faith in the lives of its citizens.’’