LEITCHFIELD, Ky. (AP) - The Rev. Chester Shartzer sang God's praises and talked of restoring his place in American government Monday as he hoisted a framed copy of the Ten Commandments back onto the wall of a Kentucky courthouse.
More than 200 people joined Shartzer and Grayson County officials in returning the commandments to the county courthouse, just days after a federal appeals court allowed the display, saying it wasn't religiously oriented.
"Grayson County is one of the most precious places in this state, I do believe," said Shartzer, who said promoting religion wasn't the intent of including the commandments. "We have Christian leadership. We have leadership is not ashamed to stand up for God, not ashamed to have this display in our courthouse."
The county won the latest stage of an eight-year legal battle with two residents and the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday, when a divided 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an injunction barring the Ten Commandments from public property.
The ACLU has not decided whether to appeal the decision, keeping the case active for now. But, to Shartzer and Grayson County officials, the decision signaled a return of God to what they see has his rightful place in the public square.
"This is the basis on which this country was founded," said state Rep. C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown. "It's supposed to be here."
The county, which features Ten Commandments displays on the sides of and inside businesses and references to "God and
country" in tributes to fallen soldiers around the courthouse, has been one of several involved in long-running disputes over whether and how the Ten Commandments can be displayed in public buildings.
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while the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals said a Mercer County Courthouse display that incorporated other historical documents was constitutional.
Since then, Ten Commandments displays and monuments in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia have been challenged and taken down.
The commandments were first taken down in Grayson County 2002 from a display called the "Foundations of American Law and Government." The county left framed copies of the full text of the Mayflower Compact, the full Declaration of Independence and other historical documents in place with two blank frames - one for an explanation of the display, the other where the Ten Commandments were.
Alvie Burns of Leitchfield, the one-time maintenance man at the courthouse, removed the commandments when a federal judge barred their display. He returned Monday to rehang the framed documents.
"Hardest thing to do was take them down," Burns said. "The easiest was to put the back up."
Between short speeches by county officials and while Burns and Shartzer - who is not a county official, but led the effort for the Ten Commandments display - put the commandments back on the wall, the overflow crowd sang "God Bless America" and "Amazing Grace." When the festivities were closing, the group celebrated with punch and a cake decorated with a large American flag.
"Grayson County along with our country was started on Christian values," said county magistrate Harold Johnson. "This is a step forward to get Christianity back."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)