Sixth Circuit Ct. of Appeals Reverses Kentucky Ten Commandments Decision
A Kentucky county can restore a display that included the Ten Commandments along with other historical documents after a split federal appeals court ruled Thursday that there’s no evidence the county intended to mount a religious display on public grounds.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, by a 2-1 vote, vacated an injunction barring Grayson County from using the commandments as part of a “Foundations of American Law and Government” display that included the full text of the Mayflower Compact, the full Declaration of Independence and other historical documents with an explanation of their significance.
U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley barred the display in 2008, saying its primary intent was religious. Two citizens and the American Civil Liberties Union sued over the display.
Appellate Judge David W. McKeague wrote that minutes of the Grayson County Fiscal Court show county officials were interested mainly in having the historical display at the courthouse.
“While there is no doubt that the Fiscal Court members could have been more explicit about their educational goals, we nonetheless find that, taken as a whole, the Foundations Display endorses an educational message rather than a religious one,” McKeague wrote in an opinion joined by U.S. District Judge Karl Forester of Lexington, who heard the case after being designated by the appeals court to assist in the case.
Appellate Judge Karen Nelson Moore dissented, saying the minutes of various Fiscal Court meetings make the intent of the display clear. Moore noted that county officials didn’t discuss the historical significance of the commandments or other documents in the display until after being sued.
“The County’s asserted purpose here – that the Display was posted for educational or historical reasons – is a sham and should be rejected,” Moore wrote. “The predominant purpose at the time the Fiscal Court voted to approve the Display was a religious one.”
The case was filed in 2001, but put on hold while other legal disputes involving public displays of the Ten Commandments were heard in court.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 ruled that displays inside the McCreary and Pulaski county courthouses were unconstitutional while the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals said a Mercer County Courthouse display that incorporated other historical documents was constitutional.
Since then, Ten Commandments displays and monuments in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia have been challenged and taken down.
Another case involving the Ten Commandments, out of a dispute in McCreary County, was argued before the appeals court in October. No decision had been rendered in that case as of Thursday.