Kentucky school district posts Ten Commandments in classrooms

Thursday, August 12, 1999

The Ten Command...
The Ten Commandments in the foyer of Jackson County High School.

MCKEE, Ky. — Claming they hope to prevent violence and cultivate “good morals” in the public schools, officials in a Kentucky school district are encouraging the posting of the Ten Commandments in district classrooms.

The Jackson County school board and superintendent are allowing the plaques as part of “an effort to start having good morals in school … because of all the violent issues that have been showing up,” said Betty Bond, principal of Jackson County High School.

The plaques went up yesterday.

Schools around the country have considered using the Ten Commandments as a symbol of morality amid headline-grabbing violence involving students over the past year.

In the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government-sponsored prayer and Bible readings were not permitted in public schools. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Stone v. Graham that public schools were no place for the Ten Commandments. The high court invalidated a Kentucky law that required the posting of the religious codes in every public school classroom in the state. The court concluded that that the Ten Commandments “are undeniably a sacred text” that “do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters, such as honoring one’s parents, killing or murder.”

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, the U.S. House of Representatives last June passed a measure declaring that state officials do have the power to post the Ten Commandments in any public building they choose. The House measure is not expected to be approved by the Senate.

Jeff Vessels, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, says he considers the Jackson County board’s move unconstitutional, but won’t act unless there is a complaint.

“The ACLU is certainly very concerned about school violence, but saying posting the Ten Commandments solves it is incredibly simplistic,” he said.

Timothy Crawford, Jackson County School District attorney, says he is concerned about lawsuits, but believes the plaques in the district’s five schools are allowed by law because they were paid for and posted by local volunteers and not sponsored by the district.

“I do not believe posting the Ten Commandments is imposing anyone’s religious views because the kids are not tested on that, the kids are not required to look at it, and the kids are not required to read it, and they’re not held accountable for that knowledge,” Crawford said.

Tonya Adams, principal of Union Chapel Elementary School in Russell County, which has had the Ten Commandments posted for years, says she’s never received any complaints about the plaques.

“People in our community would probably be upset if they were taken away,” Adams said.

In Adams County, Ohio, a group of ministers paid to place Ten Commandments tablets outside four high schools to counter “moral decline.” The Ohio ACLU is challenging the placement of the tablets on school grounds in federal court.

Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, says the organization tells districts to follow the Supreme Court ruling and not allow the Ten Commandments to be posted. He said a lawsuit could cost a district up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Jackson County school officials said there was virtually no opposition from the community about the plaques, and students returning to the high school said little about them.

“We have a new dress code this year, and I suspect in the children’s mind that’s much more of a trauma than the Ten Commandments being placed up because this is a very traditional community and really church-oriented,” Bond said.