Skip to main content

American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia Records - Guide to Selected Case Files: Religion and Belief

The ACLU of Georgia's records are housed at the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies. This guide provides further description about the cases litigated by the ACLU of Georgia which are best documented in the records.

Description

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution speaks directly to the interaction between government and religion, stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The ACLU of Georgia believes upholding this provision is important because it allows individuals to practice their faith as they please, without the interference of government. Additionally, it prevents the inference that one religion supported by government entities is superior to another.


In an effort to protect the right to freely practice religion and minimize governmental interference, the ACLU of Georgia has defended both religious and secular viewpoints. It has litigated the display of the Ten Commandments on federal and local government property, challenged the use of invocations at public meetings that shows a preference of one faith over another, and supported the ability of individuals to have religious materials in prison.

Cases, A-O

Doe v. Ault, 1995-1997

General Description: Freedom of Religion (Wicca)

Summary of the Issues Involved: The ACLU of Georgia sent demand letters to officials at a Georgia prison on behalf of an inmate who alleged he was prohibited from accessing materials related to the practice of Wicca and denied access to a Wiccan chaplain in violation of his constitutional rights. Later, the ACLU of Georgia filed a complaint on the same issue in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Ultimately, the court dismissed the inmate’s claims under state law and found for the prison officials on the federal claims.

 

Doe v. Barrow County, 2003-2005

General Description: Display of the Ten Commandments

Summary of the Issues Involved: Plaintiff challenged the display of the Ten Commandments at the Barrow County courthouse, arguing that said display violated his constitutional right to freedom of religion. The court found in favor of the plaintiff and ordered the county to compensate the plaintiff for nominal damages and attorney's fees.

 

King v. Richmond County, 2000-2003

General Description: Display of the Ten Commandments

Summary of the Issues Involved: The official seal used by the Clerk of the Superior Court of Richmond County allegedly contained an image of the Ten Commandments. The seal was used to authenticate legal documents, but did not appear on other official documents or structures relating to the court. Plaintiffs filed suit in the district court arguing the image of the Ten Commandments on the seal violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The district court found no constitutional violation and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed.  

Cases, P-Z

Pelphrey v. Cobb County, 2005-2008

General Description: Prayer at Public Meetings

Summary of the Issues Involved: Cobb County residents filed suit objecting to prayers making reference to Christianity at Cobb County Commission and Planning Commission meetings. After proceeding through litigation, the district court held that prayers including references to Christian figures were constitutional, but the Commission’s process for choosing who would lead the prayers was unconstitutional. This ruling was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

 

Selman v. Cobb County School District, 2002-2006

General Description: Evolution Disclaimer

Summary of the Issues Involved: The ACLU of Georgia filed this lawsuit challenging evolution disclaimers placed in high school biology textbooks by the Cobb County School Board. After arguments on the matter were heard in the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the parties reached a settlement agreement under which the School District would remove the disclaimers.

 

Turner v. Habersham County, 2002-2003

General Description: Ten Commandments

Summary of the Issues Involved: Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging Habersham County’s decision to publicly display the Ten Commandments at the county courthouse. The court found in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the County to remove the display.