By a 2-1 vote, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a lower-court ruling that said three Kentucky counties could not display the Ten Commandments in public buildings, even when the Decalogue is accompanied by other historical documents.
Liberty Counsel, the civil-liberties defense organization representing the counties in the action, reports the case involves two courthouses in Pulaski and McCreary counties – which displayed the Ten Commandments, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights and other historical documents – and Harlan County, where the school board created a similar display. The Harlan exhibit includes a limited public forum where the community can post additional historical documents.
The displays began with the Ten Commandments alone. They later were changed to include some historical documents with excerpted religious quotes. The displays then were altered to include other historical documents in their entirety.
Because the displays originated with only the religious document, however, Judges Eric Clay and Julia Smith Gibbons agreed they were unconstitutional. They contend the original religious purpose was not altered by later adding historical documents.
Senior Judge James Ryan dissented, Liberty Counsel said, stating court precedent established that displays could be altered to include a broader education purpose even if the original purpose was solely religious. He also argued the displays were constitutional, and he criticized the court for not taking seriously the school exhibit, which allows the community to post any historical document.
Mat Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement, “To rule that government may not modify its actions to include an educational purpose is nonsensical. Due to the bizarre aspect of this ruling, we believe the full panel of judges will rehear this matter. This case is far from over, and we believe that in the end, justice will prevail and these displays will be upheld. The past cannot dictate the future.”
Liberty Counsel will ask the entire panel of 6th Circuit judges to rehear the case.
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