Courthouse Doesn’t Need God (March 1996)

In a long-awaited decision, federal Judge Richard Mills of Chicago declared unconstitutional “The World Needs God” sign on the Montgomery County courthouse in Hillsboro, Illinois.

In a decision issued on Feb. 8, Mills permanently enjoined the county from displaying the sign and ordered its removal:

“The Establishment Clause demands government–federal, state, and local–neutrality with respect to religious beliefs,” wrote Mills in a 16-page opinion.

“A governmental body is prohibited from promoting or favoring one religion at the expense of others, or religion in general at the expense of nonbelief . . . The county’s display of the sign ‘The World Needs God’ upon the facade of the courthouse supports Christianity. That is a violation of the Establishment Clause.”

The sign, originally placed in the 1940s by a women’s bible club, is now owned and maintained by the county. The ACLU filed suit in 1992 on behalf of “Jane Doe” and “Richard Roe.”

Mills rejected arguments that the sign is “nonsectarian” and placed for “nonreligious purposes”:

“The sign ‘The World Needs God’ is undeniably a religious message. . . By its plain language, the sign’s message endorses and praises the redemptive powers of ‘God’–the supreme being at the heart of Christianity. It sends the message that the world needs to be rescued by ‘God.’ “

Mills noted that the sign’s prominent position over the entrance to the county courthouse, the seat of local government, unavoidably conveyed endorsement and approval. The sign also creates “excessive entanglement between the county and the religion of Christianity.”

“The court’s decision is a ringing reaffirmation of the principle of separation of church and state that underlies the First Amendment,” said Jane Whicher, an ACLU staff attorney representing the plaintiffs. “Under our constitution, the county has no business endorsing religious beliefs.”   

Freedom From Religion Foundation