Court permanently bars Ky. counties from posting commandments

Friday, August 8, 2008

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has made permanent an injunction barring two Kentucky counties from posting documents containing the Ten Commandments. However, the judge says she will allow attorneys for McCreary and Pulaski counties to argue that government officials’ motives have changed for posting the commandments.

The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a 5-4 decision in 2005 upheld the injunction, citing county officials’ statements of religious motivation.

However, the divided Court left open the possibility in McCreary County, Ky. V. ACLU of Kentucky that the counties could someday post the commandments if they could demonstrate secular motives.

When she issued the permanent injunction on Aug. 4, U.S. District Judge Jennifer B. Coffman said she would allow the counties to argue that resolutions passed in October 2007 have “purged the taint” of past efforts to promote religion, which is unconstitutional.

Officials in both counties approved similar resolutions in 2007 noting that the makeup of both fiscal courts had changed almost entirely.

The resolutions also declared the displays would educate people “on some of the documents and symbols that played an important role in the foundation, development and history” of the counties, state and nation.

Each county also “expressly disclaims any purpose to endorse religion in its desire to display the Foundations of American Law and Government display and expressly repeals, repudiates and disavows any public statements or testimony that may be mistakenly construed to the contrary,” the resolutions state.

The ACLU of Kentucky plans to respond, attorney William Sharp said.

“Given the history of this case and the resolutions that came before, one would certainly have to be at least cautious in accepting any such statement of purpose by the counties,” he said.

Attorney Mathew Staver of the Liberty Counsel, which represents both counties, says officials have made it clear that their motivations are now secular.

“We're not repudiating the fact that the Ten Commandments have a religious aspect,” he said. “But the primary purpose of putting them up would not be religious. This is not an expression of religious doctrine. This is an expression of heritage that happens to include religious as well as other heritages.”