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DOE v. COUNTY OF MONTGOMERY

February 8, 1996

JANE DOE AND RICHARD ROE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE COUNTY OF MONTGOMERY, ILLINOIS, A BODY POLITIC AND CORPORATE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, District Judge:

OPINION

It was Thomas Jefferson who said,

  "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of
  the whole American people which declared that their
  legislature should `make no law respecting an
  establishment of religion or prohibiting the free
  exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation
  between church and State."
    Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. (8 Otto) 145,
    164, 25 L.Ed. 244 (1878).

In sum, the Establishment Clause mandates neutrality.

I. Background

Jane Doe and Richard Roe, are residents of Montgomery County, Illinois. Montgomery County displays over the main and most prominent entrance to the County Courthouse—located in Hillsboro, Illinois—a permanent metal sign which states "THE WORLD NEEDS GOD."*fn1 The sign is at least ten feet long and approximately one and one-half feet high with lettering approximately one foot high. Its message is visible within several hundred feet.*fn2

The sign—originally illuminated in neon— was placed initially on the Courthouse in approximately 1940 by the County Board at the request of the Federated Women's Bible Club, which is now defunct. The minutes of the County Board meeting initially approving the sign provide, in full, as follows:

  Mrs. Hancock, of the Federated Bible Classes of
  Hillsboro, Illinois, spoke to the Board about the
  County Board endorsing a neon sign to be erected on
  the Court House reading "The World Needs God," and
  asked the County Board for permission to erect the
  sign, the cost to be paid by the Federated Bible
  Class, and the electric bill to be paid by the County
  Board. Several discussions followed after which there
  was a motion by Marshall, seconded by Wright that the
  County Board grant the right to erect the Neon sign on
  the Court House. Motion carried.

The sign was removed sometime in the 1960's for renovations to the Courthouse. The sign remained off the Courthouse for an unknown period of time.

In November of 1968, at the request of several local religious groups—namely, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, various churches of Hillsboro, and the Ministerial Association of Hillsboro—the County again placed the sign over the main entrance to the Courthouse. The County Board minutes describe the event as follows:

  A delegation of ladies from the W.C.T.U. [Women's
  Christian Temperance Union] and the various churches
  of Hillsboro and Rev. Oscar Mayes, a representative of
  the Ministerial Assn. of Hillsboro, appeared before
  the Board to request that the sign "The World Needs
  God" be again put back on the Court House. The sign
  they said had been a feature of the Courthouse for
  over 30 years and that now more than at any time, the
  world did "need God." Supervisors Snyder and Wiegreffe
  expressed the thought that the sign should be put up.
  Supervisor Jordan remarked that the sign was taken
  down as a necessity when the Courthouse was
  sandblasted, but that if it were put back, the County
  should not be liable for the cost of repairing and
  maintaining it. Supervisor Grimm said that he had
  opinions both for replacing and not replacing it. The
  speaker for the

  W.C.T.U. said that she would speak for her group and
  take the responsibility to have the sign repaired,
  which was concurred in by various other speakers
  representing their church groups. Motion by Jordan,
  seconded by Anderson, that the Board permit the sign
  to be put up, provided it is put in proper working
  order and maintained. Motion carried.

The County currently owns and maintains the sign. If the County desires, the sign may be removed at anytime.

In January of 1992, Doe and Roe, through their attorney, requested the removal of the sign as a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. In February of 1992, the County ...


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