PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) - U.S. District Judge Karl Forester has
ruled that a display of the Ten Commandments at one eastern
Kentucky courthouse does not violate the Constitution, but he found
that a display in the Garrard County Courthouse is illegal.
The Rowan County Fiscal Court display of the Ten Commandments
display, part of the "Foundations of American Law and Government"
exhibit, came under fire in 2001 when the American Civil Liberties
Union of Kentucky filed a lawsuit claiming the display was
Aside from the Ten Commandments, the display includes the
Mayflower compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna
Carta, the Bill of Rights and other commemorative items.
In his ruling released Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Karl
Forester said the display "does not have the effect of endorsing
Forester cited a similar case involving Mercer County, in the
Bluegrass region of the state. That county's display, virtually
identical to Rowan County's, was upheld by the 6th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
The ACLU sued Rowan County in 2001, more than two years after
the Ten Commandments were posted with the other documents in the
little-used Fiscal Court. After the suit was filed, the copy of the
Ten Commandments was removed and the Foundations display went up,
with the Ten Commandments mixed into it.
In Garrard County, the display at first included the Ten
Commandments and other documents linking government and religion,
which means that "a reasonable person would conclude that the
county's display has the effect of endorsing religion," Forester
wrote in an opinion released Sept. 5 and reported Wednesday by the
Mathew Staver, general counsel for the Florida-based Liberty
Counsel and dean of Liberty University Law School, which represents
Rowan County in its lawsuit, said he thinks the Ten Commandments
cases will end up back before the U.S. Supreme Court, whose members
have changed since the 2005 McCreary and Pulaski County decision.
"The tide is turning against the ACLU's war on the Ten
Commandments," Staver said in a statement Wednesday. "Courts are
returning to common sense recognition of the historical role of the
Ten Commandments and its influence on American law."
David Friedman, general counsel for ACLU of Kentucky, said the
courts are charged with the tricky task of determining whether
government displays of the Ten Commandment are for secular,
educational purposes or for promoting religion.
"On the ground, everyone knows what's going on: (County
officials) want to put the Ten Commandments up," Friedman said.
Public officials in such counties are "trying to mask the fact
that that's what they really care about," he said, adding that
"proving that is hard."
Liberty Counsel is no stranger to the Ten Commandments
controversy in Kentucky's Bible Belt mountain counties.
The group defended a Ten Commandments display in McCreary County
in 2005. A similar display in Pulaski County had also been
Addressing both cases, the U.S. Supreme Court said Ten
Commandments displays on government property are not inherently
unconstitutional and must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
But it said the framed displays in eastern Kentucky's McCreary
and Pulaski counties went too far in endorsing religion when they
modified the displays with documents demonstrating "America's
Christian heritage." Those included the national motto of "In God
We Trust" and a version of the Congressional Record declaring 1983
the "Year of the Bible."