State Legislator Frustrated With Delays in Building Ten Commandments Monument

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Lawmakers who rushed to pass a measure that allows a Ten Commandments monument to be displayed at the Capitol before last year's election now are expressing frustration that their plan still hasn't been carried out.

"The General Assembly spoke on this issue," said state Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington. "The governor signed the bill. Whoever is charged with doing this needs to be working post haste."

Stymied by a federal court judge, Kentucky officials have been unable to return the 6-foot-tall granite monument to the Capitol lawn.

Tom Self, an attorney for the Kentucky Justice Cabinet, said the monument can't be brought back until U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood is convinced it isn't being done as an endorsement of religion as the American Civil Liberties Union contends.

Early last year, lawmakers overwhelmingly approved legislation that called not only for the commandments to be put back on the Capitol grounds, but also for the posting of "In God We Trust" on the wall above the dais in the House and Senate chambers.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher, flanked by state legislators, signed the measure into law in a Capitol ceremony in April 2006. He said the display would be constitutional because it would be part of a historical exhibit.

House Speaker Jody Richards said lawmakers have done all they can do to get the monument back to the Capitol grounds, and now have no choice but to wait for the legal hurdles to be overcome.

As soon as lawmakers passed the bill last year, the American Civil Liberties Union immediately voiced opposition, both in public comments and court documents.

David Friedman, an attorney for the organization, said an injunction prohibits the state from returning the monument without first getting the judge's approval.

"Our country reveres religious freedom," Friedman said. "In our system, the way we ensure maximum religious freedom for us all is by having government remain neutral. Government can't tell us what to believe or how to worship."

Kentucky has been at the center of legal fights in recent years on the posting of the commandments in public buildings. In one case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled displays inside courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski counties were unconstitutional. In another, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said a similar display in the Mercer County Courthouse is constitutional because it included other historical documents.

The Ten Commandments monument at the heart of the Frankfort debate had been donated to the state in 1971 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. It was removed from the Capitol grounds and placed in storage in the mid-1980s during a construction project. When political leaders tried to display it again in 2000, the American Civil Liberties Union went to court, claiming the monument was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The ACLU won an injunction in the case.

After that, the state gave the monument back to the Eagles. It now has a prominent position at the organization's lodge in Hopkinsville, fully visible alongside Fort Campbell Boulevard, the main road leading to one of Army's most storied military installations.

The state's proposal is to display the Ten Commandments monument in a memorial garden alongside other displays of historical significance to Kentucky. The difficulty has been finding the other displays.

Jill Midkiff, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Division of Historic Properties, said a public appeal for historical exhibits that could be included in the memorial garden yielded no results. That left the state with little to add to the proposed garden, other than a replica of the Liberty Bell and a memorial honoring those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Self said attorneys for the state won't ask the federal judge to lift the injunction until they're confident the memorial garden can pass constitutional muster. That means locating other memorials and monuments of historical significance to place in the memorial garden.

Lee said the commandments are of historical significance to the state and nation and should be displayed in accordance with the Supreme Court rulings.

"It is proper to display them, as long as you're not promoting a religion," he said. "We need to be vigorous in our response to anything the ACLU does in this context."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
AP-NY-06-03-07 1300EDT


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