The legal battle with a secular group that has cost Fargo, Minnesota, over $120,000 has still not come to an end, as Reed River Freethinkers’ lawyer prepares to appeal the latest ruling made by a three-judge panel on August 25. Charles Sawicki, who is president of the secular group, said the dispute is over a religious monument, namely the Ten Commandments, that is located on public property near City Hall. A couple of lengthy court proceedings have spanned over a decade in the fight between Reed River Freethinkers and Fargo city, both of whom are contending over whether or not the Ten Commandments monument violates the separation of church and state.
The city’s finance director Kent Costin said Fargo has spent $88,115 on the latest lawsuit while the freethinkers spent only $16,631. The difference in cost is due to the city’s decision to outsource the legal matter to a law firm in Minneapolis that charges $270 each hour, while the freethinkers chose to hire local attorneys who charge only $100 an hour. John Baker, from the law firm Greene Espel, which boasts of being one of the best law firms in the United States, is representing Fargo, and Bruce Schoenwald from Stefanson Law in Moorhead is representing Reed River Freethinkers.
The first lawsuit by the freethinkers was filed in 2002 and it ended in 2005, after a judge ruled that the monument did not violate the separation of church and state as it conveyed both religious as well as secular messages. Fargo spent $35,000 on the suit at that time while the cost incurred by the Freethinkers is unknown. Then in 2008, the secular group sued Fargo a second time after its members were disallowed from setting up a secular monument next to the religious monument. The city again won the suit when a three-judge panel ruled in favour of Fargo by a 2-1 vote. However, the freethinkers plan on suing the city a third time and with the help of donors, its budget is well above $15,000, which is what the group had managed to offer on its own.
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