Judge Bars Commandments in Kentucky Schools, Courts

A federal judge in Kentucky has ruled that Ten Commandments displays in courthouses and public schools violate church-state separation and must be removed.

On May 5, U.S. District Judge Jennifer B. Coffman announced that Commandments displays in the Pulaski and McCreary county courthouses and in the Harlan County public schools serve no secular purpose and must come down.

The counties had attempted to make the religious postings constitutional by displaying the Decalogue with historical documents such as an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, President Ronald Reagan's 1983 proclamation of the Year of the Bible and the Mayflower Compact.

However, in her ACLU v. Pulaski County, ACLU v. McCreary County and ACLU v. Harlan County Public School District decisions, Coffman noted that the Ten Commandments is a "distinctly religious document" that contains "religious duties of believers." She also found that the additional documents were chosen because of their religious references, which "collectively have the overwhelming effect of endorsing religion."

The suit was brought by the ACLU on behalf of Paul Lee, a World War II veteran from Pulaksi County. "I want our Constitution to be preserved," Lee told the Associated Press. "I want everybody to have their fair share of religion, and they can have it according to the Constitution, but not by having the government say you have to have it."

One public official told reporters he is considering open defiance. "I said early on I would not remove them, and I will not," McCreary County Judge-Executive Jimmie Greene said. "I'll go to jail before I'll take them down.... This is one order I will not obey."

The Decalogue was removed, however, after a federal appeals court denied an emergency petition to keep it up during the ongoing litigation.

The Kentucky decision is the latest in a series of legal defeats for religious symbol boosters. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to order a public school district to allow the posting of a Ten Commandments advertisement at a baseball field.

Edward DiLoreto, a Southern California businessman, paid the Downey High School baseball booster club $400 to post the Commandments on an outfield fence in 1995. When the school rejected the ad, DiLoreto sued.

In November, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in DiLoreto v. Board of Education that the school's fence is "a forum limited to certain subjects...

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