WHITLEY CITY, Ky. (BP)–Thomas Jefferson is widely known as the author of the famous “separation of church and state” doctrine. Jefferson used the phrase, for example, in addressing a gathering of Baptists in Danbury, Conn., in 1802.
There he assured them the federal government would not establish a national church denomination.
“I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state,” the nation’s third president said.
In Kentucky, however, the McCreary County Fiscal Court pointed out in a Dec. 8 resolution that Jefferson also wrote a book about Christ, which was printed with federal funds.
The county government passed the resolution encouraging County Judge Executive Jimmie Green to display various national documents alongside the Ten Commandments in the county courthouse.
The documents were added about three weeks after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit to challenge the county’s Ten Commandments posting. The county’s legal adviser contends that the expanded historical display has now resolved any constitutional problems.
Among the documents posted are excerpts of::
— a composite of the national motto, “In God We Trust,” and parts of the Declaration of Independence and preamble to Kentucky’s constitution.
— the Mayflower Compact.
— two statements from Kentucky native Abraham Lincoln, including one that, “The Bible is the best Gift God has ever given to man.”
— a proclamation signed by then-President Ronald Reagan declaring 1983 the “Year of the Bible.”
The eight-page resolution drafted by the county’s legal defense team of Ronald Ray and Ted Amshoff Jr., with additional input from Green, cites a long list of Christian influences in the state’s and nation’s history.
Most notable is the reference to Jefferson writing the book, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” Printing of 9,000 copies — 6,000 for use by House members and 3,000 by U.S. senators — was authorized by a resolution of the 57th Congress to “restrain unethical behavior,” the McCreary County resolution reported.
It also pointed out that Massachusetts Congressman Fisher Ames — who suggested the wording of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — was a firm believer in the Bible as a school textbook.
“We are spending less time in the classroom on the Bible which should be the principle [sic] text in our schools,” Ames wrote in a Sept. 20, 1789, article in Palladium magazine. “The Bible states these great moral lessons better than any other manmade book.”
Among the resolution’s other historical references:
— America’s colonial governments adopted the Ten Commandments as the basis for their law. The resolution cited an April 3, 1644, meeting, for example, when the New Haven Colony Charter made “the judicial laws of God, as they were delivered by Moses, be a rule to all the courts in this jurisdiction.”
— In signing the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams (known as the “Father of the American Revolution”) talked about its biblical basis, saying, “We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.”
— In 1828, founding father Noah Webster said, “The moral principles and precepts contained in the scriptures ought to form the basis for all our civil constitutions and laws. All the miseries and evils which men suffer … proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”
— The Ten Commandments are posted on the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court and are displayed directly above the bench where the justices are seated.
— Each of the Ten Commandments has at some point in history become part of the state’s civil and criminal laws, as well as in other states.
The county’s resolution also refers to Alabama Circuit Judge Roy Moore, who has displayed the Ten Commandments in his courtroom since December 1992. Despite a number of ACLU lawsuits in state and federal courts against the practice, Moore prevailed and continues to display them.
“The ACLU threw everything but the kitchen sink at Judge Moore, and the Ten Commandments are still on his courthouse wall,” Ray said. “There’s no difference between a courtroom in Alabama and a courtroom in Kentucky.”
Ray, of Crestwood, Ky., said the ACLU wants to act as a history censor, and has been succeeding because the church has failed to hold the group accountable.
“The history speaks for itself,” Ray said. “If you stand on history, it’s clear we’re a Christian nation. Our laws and institutions are emphatically Christian. They [the ACLU] can’t stand the history because the history exposes the lies. Seventy years ago every kid in America knew who Fisher Ames was. Now I can’t find anyone who [knows].”
David Friedman, the Louisville attorney handling the ACLU cases against McCreary and two other Kentucky counties, wasn’t available for comment. But Kenneth Falk, legal director of the ACLU’s Indiana affiliate, said displays of the Ten Commandments are only legitimate as part of a wide-ranging display of historical documents.
Falk has argued three cases in recent months involving such displays. Cases involving governments in Marion and Danville, Ind., were resolved by changing Ten Commandments displays to a historical orientation with approximately 20 other documents, he said.
The week of Dec. 20, the ACLU lost a suit it brought against Elkhart, Ind. A U.S. district judge ruled that a six-foot-high engraving of the Ten Commandments could remain in front of city hall. Falk said he plans to appeal that ruling to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
“If you have a [Ten Commandments] display with one or two other documents, that’s not a historical display,” Falk contended. “If it’s one of 25 documents, perhaps you have a better case. Some people have tried to argue the Ten Commandments displayed with the Declaration of Independence is a historical display. That’s a display with a religious purpose.”
In judging the merits of these cases, he said, the starting point is the Supreme Court ruling in 1980 that invalidated Kentucky’s law requiring Ten Commandments classroom displays.
In that ruling, the court said the Ten Commandments were not a historical document, but a sacred text, Falk said.
“We’re not trying to censor history; it’s a recognition the Ten Commandments is a supremely religious document,” he said. “You also have to consider other people bringing in other historical documents, which will lead to further litigation when those [displays] are denied.”