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Indiana County Loses Ten Commandments Fight

Lawrence County, Ind., officials have removed a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse lawn, after being threatened with costly court fines by a federal judge.

The stone Decalogue monument had originally been created to sit on the lawn of the state capitol in Indianapolis. On Oct. 24, however, U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker agreed with a lawsuit filed by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and blocked the sculpture from being installed.

While the case is being appealed, commissioners in Lawrence County voted unanimously to install the monument in front of its county courthouse.

To no one's surprise, Barker ruled Nov. 14 that the monument is just as unconstitutional in front of a county court house as it is in front of the Capitol and ordered that it be removed.

Apparently annoyed at the officials' attempt to circumvent her earlier ruling, Barker added that the county would be fined $1,000 a day and that county commissioners would personally be fined $200 a day if the Commandments were not removed within five days of her ruling.

"It would be highly inequitable to allow a governmental body, or any other organization, to flaunt the authority of this court simply by claiming that the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing," Barker said in her ruling.

Three days later, local police defied the wishes of a lone protester, and the religious display was taken away.

In a related story, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down the display of the Ten Commandments in front of a municipal building in Elkhart, Ind. The court said the display was a clear example of government endorsement of religion. Officials in Elkhart plan to appeal the Books v. City of Elkhart ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. (See full story next month.)

Pennsylvania Parents Held Responsible For Child's Death

In a unanimous ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld the manslaughter conviction of a fundamentalist couple who rejected medical care for their ailing daughter.

Shannon Nixon of Altoona, Pa., died in 1996 at the age of 16 of complications from diabetes, including dehydration and a blood sugar level 18 times the normal level. Doctors agree that with insulin, she would have lived. Her parents, Dennis and Lorie Nixon, who have 11 other children and reject medical treatment for their family on religious grounds, argued unsuccessfully in lower courts that Shannon was a "mature minor" and had a constitutional right to privacy not to seek medical care.

In a 7-0 ruling published Nov. 28, the state Supreme Court rejected the Nixons' defense. Justice Stephen Zappala said in Commonwealth v. Nixon that the family's religious objections to medical care are overridden by the state's "compelling interest" in protecting the life of a child.

The parents, who belong to the Blair County, Pa., branch of the Faith Tabernacle Church, have been sentenced to terms of 2 1/2 to 5 years, but are free pending the outcome of their appeals. An attorney representing the family told reporters they are considering taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Shannon was the second child in her immediate family to die of a treatable condition. Her brother, Clayton Nixon, died in 1991 of an ear infection. …

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