April 24, 2006
Federal Appeals Court Upholds Ten Commandments Ruling
By Peter Smith / The Courier-Journal
A federal court Monday upheld a Ten Commandments display at the Mercer County, Ky., courthouse — even though the display is identical to one that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in two other Kentucky counties last year.
The decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, affirmed a December ruling by a three-judge panel on the court that had validated the display.
That ruling served as a basis for a new Kentucky law allowing religious texts to be posted as part of historical displays on public property.
But in a stinging dissent, five of the 14 active judges on the appeals court chastised their colleagues Monday for misreading Supreme Court precedent.
The dissenters said the majority turned a “blind eye” to the religious motivations of Mercer County officials in posting the display in their courthouse, located in the Bluegrass region of the state.
The Mercer County display includes the Ten Commandments and other historical documents. It is exactly identical to displays in McCreary and Pulaski counties, which were ruled unconstitutional in a Supreme Court case last June.
But the appeals court panel ruled in December that the Mercer County display could remain because it had a different history.
The other two counties had first displayed the Bible laws on their own. Then, after a court challenge, they displayed the commandments with a set of religiously themed historical documents before settling on a third display involving other historical documents with fewer religious references.
This history, plus the public comments and actions by McCreary and Pulaski officials, indicated a religious motivation all along, despite changes in the display, the high court ruled.
In contrast, Mercer County only posted a display identical to the third version of the display, and the appeals court ruled that its officials only had secular not religious motivations.
The dissenting judges, however, said it would be “naïve” not to think that the Mercer officials had a religious motivation just because they didn’t say so. The dissenters said Mercer County put up its display in solidarity with “its fellow counties’ embattled and religiously motivated display.”
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