ACLU of Kentucky Wins Appeal of Ten Commandments Postings in McCreary, Harlan, and Pulaski Counties

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
December 18, 2003 12:00 am

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LOUISVILLE, KY — Ten Commandments postings in three Kentucky counties manifest a religious purpose and are, therefore, unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled today in cases brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky on behalf of local residents.

“The displays emphasized a single religious influence, with no mention of any other religious or secular influences,” said the opinion by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. “This fact confirms the rectitude of the district court’s conclusion that Defendants’ purposes were religious.”

The ACLU of Kentucky filed the lawsuits in November 1999 challenging the postings in courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski counties and in a school in Harlan County on behalf of ACLU members and a family with a child in the Harlan County school system. The three lawsuits were consolidated and U.S. District Judge Jennifer B. Coffman found that the displays likely would be found unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction that they be removed.

“Government may urge its citizens not to kill, steal or commit adultery, but it exceeds its proper and limited role when it espouses religious beliefs,” said David Friedman, General Counsel for the ACLU of Kentucky. “The Ten Commandments advocate believing in God, observing the Sabbath and not worshipping idols. Those are religious beliefs, which citizens are free to hold or not. They are not the proper subject of governmental policy.”

Lawyers representing the three counties argued that the postings should be permitted because the Ten Commandments were included in a display with several historical documents. But the appeals court found that the history of the displays indicated a religious, not secular, purpose.

“Ultimately, the displays convey a message of religious endorsement because of the complete lack of any analytical connection between the Ten Commandments and the other patriotic documents and symbols,” the appeals court said. “A reasonable observer of the displays cannot connect the Ten Commandments with a unifying historical or cultural theme that is also secular.”

The ACLU of Kentucky has a second set of lawsuits pending that challenge Ten Commandment postings in county government buildings in Mercer, Grayson, Garrard, and Rowan counties.

For three of the counties, the judge stayed proceedings until the Sixth Circuit decision was issued in the McCreary, Pulaski, and Harlan cases. In Mercer County, the judge allowed the posting to remain. The ACLU has appealed that decision to the Sixth Circuit.

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