Biblical displays lead to lawsuit

Suit filed over Ten Commandments in Jackson Co. courthouse

bestep@herald-leader.comJuly 7, 2009 

The courthouse in Jackson County should have to take town several copies of the Ten Commandments because they are an improper governmental endorsement of religion, a federal lawsuit argues.

The lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and a county resident, Eugene Phillips Jr., seeks a ruling that nine copies of the biblical laws on the courthouse walls in McKee are unconstitutional. It also seeks an injunction ordering the county to take down the copies.

The lawsuit is the latest fight over copies of the Ten Commandments in government buildings in Kentucky, which has been a key battleground on the issue.

Some of the most prominent cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on the propriety of displaying the Ten Commandments in government buildings have come out of Kentucky.

There have been court fights involving a number of counties the last decade, including Pulaski, McCreary, Rowan, Mercer, Garrard and Grayson.

The new suit is against Jackson County and Judge-Executive William O. Smith.

Smith said he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit but that most county residents would support keeping the Ten Commandments displayed in the courthouse. He said a judge might order the county to remove the Commandments, but "that doesn't mean it's right."

The lawsuit was filed last week. The lawsuit says that Phillips and other ACLU members in Jackson County must use the courthouse to do business such as paying taxes.

When they do, exposure to the Ten Commandments displays is "direct and unwelcome," because the citizens see the copies as a message of religious endorsement by the county, in violation of the First Amendment, the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs say that the First Amendment correctly seeks to protect individual freedom by preventing undue government interference in the exercise of religious beliefs, and by barring the government from favoring one religion over another, or religion over non-religion, the lawsuit says.

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