Local Lawyer Adds Brief to Church-State Debates; Ponte Vedra and Orlando Attorneys in Thick of Two Ten Commandments Cases

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY, The Times-Union

Florida lawyers are working on opposite sides of two high-profile Ten Commandments cases the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Wednesday.

How the court rules on those cases -- one from Texas, the other from Kentucky -- may likely decide the future of religious displays on government property, legal experts say.

Ponte Vedra Beach resident Suhag A. Shukla, an attorney for the Hindu American Foundation, helped craft a brief filed in support of Texan Thomas Van Orden, who challenged the constitutionality of a Ten Commandments monument displayed for more than 40 years on the state Capitol grounds in Austin. A federal appeals court ruled against Van Orden, declaring the monument within constitutional bounds.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Wednesday, and Shukla said she will be present as an observer.

The brief she helped draft argues against the Texas display on religious grounds and was co-signed by organizations representing millions of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains in the United States, she said.

They believe the monument should be removed because it violates the Constitution's establishment clause, which prohibits government from formally recognizing any one religion.

The Ten Commandments are sacred to the Judeo-Christian tradition, Shukla said, and their presence in government buildings can make non-Christians feel like outsiders.

"The framers of the Constitution were very careful when they drafted the free exercise and establishment clauses," she said. …


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