Ten Commandments removed from Jackson Co. courthouse

dhjalmarson@herald-leader.comJuly 22, 2009 

Displays of the Ten Commandments in the Jackson County Courthouse have been removed in an effort to help resolve a federal lawsuit.

The county has not filed a response to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that says nine framed displays throughout the courthouse were a violation of First Amendment rights of co-plaintiff Eugene Phillips Jr.

Taking the displays down "will be a big step in getting that resolved," County Attorney George T. Hays said.

According to the lawsuit, Jackson Judge-Executive William O. Smith and the county fiscal court authorized the displays of the commandments in 1999 for "no secular purpose."

The framed displays were at the courthouse entrances and outside the offices of court clerks, staircases and restrooms.

Smith could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday but told WYMT-TV in Hazard that he removed the Commandments because "we do not want to jeopardize the taxpayers of our community and make them liable for something that is unfair."

There have been court fights over the Ten Commandments in a number of counties during the past decade, including Pulaski, McCreary, Rowan, Mercer, Garrard and Grayson.

Earlier this year, a federal judge ordered Pulaski and McCreary counties to pay more than $400,000 to the ACLU and citizens who challenged Ten Commandments displays.

"It's too early to tell" what will happen in Jackson County, but the removal of the displays will certainly be a factor in the outcome of the suit, said Bill Sharp, staff attorney for ACLU of Kentucky.

"In terms of the county's decision (to remove the Commandments displays), we are certainly hopeful that this represents abandonment of any religious motivation by the county," Sharp said.

The suit against Jackson County seeks nominal damages ($1) and attorneys' fees, as well as an injunction requiring the county to remove the displays.

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