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National Rift Resonates in Md. Display

"We still feel it's more secular than religious. It's what our laws are based on today," Wahls said.

The controversy here began in late summer with a complaint from Jeffrey Davis, an emergency room doctor at the Western Maryland Health System who lives in Garrett County. Sitting on a bench outside the courthouse one day, he was reading an account of Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore's defiant attempt to keep a 2.5-ton Ten Commandments display in the high court. Then he looked up and saw Allegany's monument.

The protest by Edward Taylor Jr., the Rev. Ronald Yost and others over removal of the monument, on display in Cumberland, Md., since 1957, prompted its return. (Photos Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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Davis, 56, who attended a Presbyterian church as a teenager, said he now considers himself a "humanist." He also believes one does not need to embrace the concept of a God to lead a moral life.

"There's plenty of religious people who are evil," he said.

Davis said he wrote a letter of protest to the county because the monument implies that the legal system embraces Judeo-Christian beliefs. This is at odds, he said, with a country that is more diverse than ever.

The monument was moved on Columbus Day just before all three commissioners left on vacation, which led to allegations that they had tried to act in secret. The demonstrators' anger was further stoked by the monument's new location: the back yard of the Cumberland Cultural Foundation's Gilchrist Gallery next door, in an area that had once been a dog pen.

"You had to trespass on the property just to see the monument in a dog cage," Taylor said.

County Commissioner Robert M. Hutcheson (R) said the board moved the monument merely to try to spare taxpayers of an expensive lawsuit.

"We didn't think anything about it," Hutcheson said. "And all hell broke loose."

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