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Judge blocks Ten Commandments display at Kentucky capitol

FRANKFORT, Ky. (BP)–Kentucky’s six-foot granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments will remain in storage — at least for now.

The monument, donated to the state in 1971 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, is at the center of the latest legal controversy over displaying the Ten Commandments. It was displayed on the state capitol grounds in Frankfort for several years before being placed in storage to make room for a construction project.

A legislative resolution directing that the monument be reinstalled at the capitol was ruled unconstitutional July 27 by U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood.

Corey Bellamy, a spokesman for Attorney General Ben Chandler, said July 28 that Chandler had not yet determined whether the state will appeal the ruling.

“The attorney general’s office is working with the finance and administrative cabinet and the governor’s office to make that decision,” Bellamy said. “We respect the court’s order, but we’ll determine what step to take next, whether or not to appeal.”

Senate Joint Resolution 57 was signed into law April 21 by Gov. Paul Patton. It called for the monument to be placed on permanent display on the capitol grounds as “part of a historical and cultural display … to remind Kentuckians of the biblical foundations of the laws of the Commonwealth.”

The resolution was challenged in a lawsuit filed July 10 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

ACLU officials filed suit earlier this year against a Kentucky school district and two counties for posting the Ten Commandments. U.S. District Judge Jennifer Coffman ordered the documents removed from the school and county courthouses pending the outcome of that case.

The ACLU’s case against the state did not challenge other sections of the resolution that encourage teachers and school administrators to post and teach from historic documents, including the Ten Commandments. ACLU leaders have indicated they will file suit against schools, however, if they perceive the commandments are posted in a way that violates the First Amendment.

In the latest ruling, Judge Hood sided with the ACLU in declaring the capitol display unconstitutional. Citing Coffman’s opinion that “the Ten Commandments are a distinctly religious document,” Hood rejected arguments by Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Carrico that the capitol display was intended to highlight the commandments’ historical significance, not to promote religion.

“A reasonable observer would interpret this display as the Commonwealth’s endorsement of Christianity,” Hood ruled, noting that “the Commonwealth cannot favor one religion without disfavoring another.”

“The function of our Constitution is to insure that the majority protects the views of the minority,” Hood added. “The majority cannot by legislative fiat impose its views on the minority.”

Rep. Tom Riner of Louisville, who proposed the Ten Commandments display, told reporters he is disappointed with the ruling. “We were not trying to promote religion,” he said. “We were simply trying to recognize the historical origin of our foundation of law.

“I don’t believe we have a flawed argument,” he told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “I believe it’s a flawed judiciary that would misconstrue the historical recognition of our precedent legal code as a violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution.”

    About the Author

  • Trennis Henderson

    Trennis Henderson is the national correspondent for WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union). A Baptist journalist for more than 35 years, Henderson is a former editor of the Western Recorder of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Arkansas Baptist News state convention newsjournal.

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