A display of the Ten Commandments at an eastern Kentucky courthouse does not violate the Constitution, but a lawsuit challenging a similar display in another county can proceed, a federal judge has ruled.
The Ten Commandments display at the Rowan County Fiscal Court, part of an exhibit on the foundations of American law and government, “does not have the effect of endorsing religion,” U.S. District Judge Karl Forester said in a ruling released Wednesday.
Earlier this month, Forester refused to dismiss a similar suit in Garrard County, saying that “a reasonable person would conclude that the county’s display has the effect of endorsing religion.” The ruling allows that case to proceed. He said the history of the display there offered evidence suggesting “that the officially stated purpose ... is a sham” to disguise religious intent.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued Rowan County in 2001, and its Ten Commandments display was replaced by one that also includes the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights and other items on law and government.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that Ten Commandments displays on government property must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Among factors making the displays constitutional, the court said, is if their main purpose was to honor the nation’s legal, rather than religious, traditions.
Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal defense organization, called Forester’s Wednesday ruling part of a trend.
“The tide is turning against the ACLU’s war on the Ten Commandments,” Staver said in a statement.
David Friedman, general counsel for ACLU of Kentucky, said county officials’ real goal is to display the Ten Commandments, but it was difficult to prove that a religious display is “what they really care about.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling had struck down the display of the commandments in two Kentucky courthouses but upheld a granite monument near the Texas Capitol.