LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky county can restore a display
that included the Ten Commandments along with other historical
documents after a split federal appeals court ruled Thursday that
there's no evidence the county intended to mount a religious
display on public grounds.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, by a 2-1 vote, vacated an
injunction barring Grayson County from using the commandments as
part of a "Foundations of American Law and Government" display
that included the full text of the Mayflower Compact, the full
Declaration of Independence and other historical documents with an
explanation of their significance.
U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley barred the display in 2008,
saying its primary intent was religious. Two citizens and the
American Civil Liberties Union sued over the display.
Appellate Judge David W. McKeague wrote that minutes of the
Grayson County Fiscal Court show county officials were interested
mainly in having the historical display at the courthouse.
"While there is no doubt that the Fiscal Court members could
have been more explicit about their educational goals, we
nonetheless find that, taken as a whole, the Foundations Display
endorses an educational message rather than a religious one,"
McKeague wrote in an opinion joined by U.S. District Judge Karl
Forester of Lexington, who heard the case after being designated by
the appeals court to assist in the case.
Appellate Judge Karen Nelson Moore dissented, saying the minutes
of various Fiscal Court meetings make the intent of the display
clear. Moore noted that county officials didn't discuss the
historical significance of the commandments or other documents in
the display until after being sued.
"The County's asserted purpose here - that the Display was
posted for educational or historical reasons - is a sham and should
be rejected," Moore wrote. "The predominant purpose at the time
the Fiscal Court voted to approve the Display was a religious
ACLU attorney Bill Sharp said he's considering several legal
options, including asking for a rehearing before the full appeals
court or having the U.S. Supreme Court look at the case.
"We're certainly disappointed in the decision," Sharp said.
"We're weighing those options and looking at the substantive and
procedural aspects of the decision."
Mat Staver, an attorney for the Orlando, Fla.-based Liberty
Counsel, which defended the display, said the Ten Commandments
belong in the display and should be allowed in the courthouse.
"The Ten Commandments are part of the fabric of our country and
helped shape the law," Staver said. "It defies common sense to
remove a recognized symbol of law from a court of law."
The case was filed in 2001, but put on hold while other legal
disputes involving public displays of the Ten Commandments were
heard in court.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 ruled that displays inside the
McCreary and Pulaski county courthouses were unconstitutional while
the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals said a Mercer County
Courthouse display that incorporated other historical documents was
Since then, Ten Commandments displays and monuments in Alabama,
Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee and West
Virginia have been challenged and taken down.
Another case involving the Ten Commandments, out of a dispute in
McCreary County, was argued before the appeals court in October. No
decision had been rendered in that case as of Thursday.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)