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Brief Fact Summary.
Two counties placed the Ten Commandments citing King James Version on the walls of the court house.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Placing religious documents on court house walls is a violation of the Establishment Clause and will not be allowed.
The County of McCreary and the County of Pulaski had a display of a gold-framed copy of King James Version of the Ten Commandments placed on the wall of their respective court houses. The displays even had the religious citation of the Book of Exodus 20:3-17. This was placed so that all citizens could see the display. In the first case the ACLU sued in federal court for this display. A month later the legislative bodies of each county authorized a second display. This one stated the Ten Commandments are the precedent legal code upon which the civil and criminal codes of the counties of Kentucky are founded. The District court ordered the displays be removed. Then the counties tried another display, this one showing the Ten Commandments and 8 other historical relevant documents.
Whether placing the Ten Commandments on the wall of a public court house is a violation of the Establishment Clause.
Yes. There is deeply-rooted history in this country against the combination of church and state. It is this Government’s job to remain neutral when it comes to matters of religion. A public court house, regardless of how it is displayed, can not in good conscious place the Ten Commandments in public view. Clearly having religious picture on the wall that states which bible the writings came from is clearly a combination of church and state. The Counties argue that the Framers of the Constitution use the Ten Commandments in their laws and in the text of many national speeches songs and statements. However it is not for the government to impose the ideas of a monotheistic religion upon the people of this Country. As long as an objective observer can look upon a display and see it clearly is reinforcing some for of religion it does not belong in a Court House.
One Justice gave a personal example of why religious does have its place in the government. He told a story about how he was in Italy for a conference during the 9/11 attacks and how another member at the conference gave his condolences and then stated he wish his president could say God Bless in his address to his country. Not all combination of state and religion need be forbidden. It fosters community and morality to the people of this country at a time of need.
The Counties tried changing the display to show the Ten Commandments and other important documents that had some religious connotation. This court is not stating that scared and religious text should never be integrated into a government display on the subject of law and America history; however, the government must always have the appearance of the neutrality of religion.