Kentucky again approves Ten Commandments law

Thursday, April 27, 2000

With little fanfare and no written statement, Kentucky’s governor has joined two other state governors in approving bills that will allow the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools and buildings.

Late last week, Gov. Paul E. Patton, a Democrat, signed into law a resolution that will allow public school administrators and teachers to “post and teach from historic displays of original documents” including “the Ten Commandments as the rule of colonial courts and the precedent legal code upon which the civil government and laws of the commonwealth and Republic were founded.”

Senate Joint Resolution 57 states its intent is “to address the suppression and censorship of American history regarding Judeo-Christianity’s influence on Colonial America and on the development of American law and civil government.”

The resolution also requires the state to erect a monument inscribed with the commandments on Capitol grounds.

Almost 20 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a Kentucky law that required the posting of the Decalogue in all public school classrooms. On Dec. 17, 1980, the high court ruled in Stone v. Graham that Kentucky’s law was a blatant government endorsement of religion in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

“The pre-eminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature,” the high court concluded in Stone. “The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact.”

The high court in Stone, however, did say that the commandments could be “integrated into the school curriculum, where the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky had urged Patton to veto the resolution, and warned that, if not, legal action would be taken.

The bill “advances religious intolerance and will very likely entangle the Commonwealth as well as local government officials in costly litigation,” Jeff Vessels, the group’s executive director, wrote to Patton in early April. “Children who wish to pray and meditate upon religious doctrine (such as the Ten Commandments or the Bible) in school already have the right to do so. Students can take copies of the religious doctrine with them to school and read them during times in which attention to instruction-related activities is not required.”

Mark Pfeiffer, Patton’s press secretary, said the governor would have no comment about his signing or support of the bill.

The governors of Idaho and South Dakota have also signed similar bills into law this year.