Federal Appeals Court Rules against Ky. Ten Commandments Display

Church & State, February 2004 | Go to article overview

Federal Appeals Court Rules against Ky. Ten Commandments Display


Efforts by three Kentucky counties to camouflage Ten Commandments displays by posting other documents alongside the Decalogue failed in December when a federal appeals court struck down the scheme.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Dec. 18 that the displays at courthouses and public schools in McCreary, Pulaski and Harlan counties were still religious in nature.

Officials had originally posted the Ten Commandments without other additional materials. After a federal court struck down those displays, other items were added, including the words to "The Star Spangled Banner," excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the Mayflower Compact, the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta and the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution.

The exhibits in the courthouses contained a caption asserting that the Ten Commandments "provide the moral background of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of our legal tradition."

The appeals court found this assertion unpersuasive, noting that the caption "offers no explanation how the quotation from the Declaration is in any way connected with the Ten Commandments, which say nothing about men being created equal and with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The only facial similarity between the two documents is that they both recognize the existence of a deity. The concept of a deity, however, is by no means unique to the Ten Commandments or even the Judeo-Christian tradition. Thus, this solitary similarity hardly demonstrates how the Ten Commandments in particular influenced the writing of the Declaration and, hence, the foundation of our country and legal tradition."

Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right legal group affiliated with the Rev. …

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