March 09, 2006
Kentucky’s Ten Commandments bill OK’d
FRANKFORT — Kentucky lawmakers moved closer Wednesday to giving a final blessing to posting the Ten Commandments in local government buildings and schools.
The measure allowing the commandments to be showcased as part of displays of historic documents in the public buildings was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate.
That leaves the bill just one step away from final passage.
The bill also would order the return of a Ten Commandments monument to the state Capitol grounds. The 6-foot-tall granite monument is now on display outside a Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge in Hopkinsville.
The measure prompted little discussion and passed the Senate on a 37-1 vote. The only dissenter was Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington. Afterward, he questioned the constitutionality of the bill and said it could result in a waste of taxpayers’ money defending the law.
“Our track record in Kentucky is not very good when passing bills on the Ten Commandments that withstand judicial scrutiny,” he said.
Lawmakers’ time would be better spent on other subjects such as improving health care and education, Scorsone said.
“If all these folks spend a little more time abiding by the Ten Commandments rather than trying to post them, I think we’d be a lot better off,” Scorsone said.
Senate President David Williams said he thought the legislation was constitutional because the commandments would be part of displays of historic documents.
“We wouldn’t do anything that we thought was unconstitutional,” Williams, R-Burkesville, said afterward.
Kentucky has been at the center of legal fights in recent years on the posting of the commandments in public buildings. In one case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled displays inside courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski counties were unconstitutional. In another, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said a similar display in the Mercer County Courthouse is constitutional because it included other historical documents.
As for the prospective return of the Ten Commandments monument, Williams said he hopes it is placed in a position of prominence on the statehouse grounds.
The monument was donated to the state in 1971 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. It stood until the late 1980s in an obscure area at the Capitol grounds near a parking lot, when it came down for a construction project. A few years ago, lawmakers directed that the monument be placed next to a giant floral clock in the area between the Capitol and the Capitol Annex.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky along with some clergy members filed a lawsuit to halt the display. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the legislative directive was an unconstitutional mixing of church and state.
The measure that passed the Senate on Wednesday also would require the Legislative Research Commission to post the national motto, In God We Trust, on the wall in the House of Representatives, behind the speaker’s stand.
The Senate didn’t include language to put the same motto behind the president’s chair in the chamber. Not to be outdone, Williams said he would instruct the LRC to post the same inscription in the Senate if it goes up in the House.
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