ACLU Challenges Posting of Ten Commandments In Kentucky's Schools and Courthouses

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
November 18, 1999 12:00 am

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LOUISVILLE, KY — The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky today filed three lawsuits challenging the posting of the Ten Commandments in the Harlan County public schools and in the McCreary and Pulaski County courthouses.

“Simply put, government may teach about religion, but may not preach religion,” said David Friedman, General Counsel for the ACLU of Kentucky.

“The Ten Commandments advocate believing in God, observing the Sabbath and not worshipping idols. Those are religious beliefs, which citizens are free to hold or not; they are not the proper subject of governmental policy,” he added.

The courthouse lawsuits were filed by the ACLU of Kentucky on behalf of its McCreary and Pulaski County members, and by two citizens of each county. The school lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of a couple and their child, who attends middle school in the Harlan County School District. All three cases are pending in federal court in London, where they have been assigned to U.S. District Judge Jennifer Coffman.

In the lawsuits, the ACLU of Kentucky argues that the postings of the Ten Commandments violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government from endorsing or favoring any religion (or non-religion) or religious viewpoint. The cases seek court orders prohibiting the challenged postings. They do not seek damages.

“This case is not about the Ten Commandments; it is about government,” the ACLU said in legal papers filed with the court, Today’s lawsuits were filed 19 years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Kentucky law requiring public schools to post the Ten Commandments (the 1980 lawsuit, Stone v. Graham, was brought by the ACLU of Kentucky).

The November 17, 1980, Supreme Court ruling said, in part, “The pre-eminent purpose of posting the Ten Commandments on classroom walls is plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact. The Commandments do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters, such as honoring one’s parents, killing or murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, and covetousness.”

The ACLU cooperating attorneys in the lawsuits are Laurie Griffith, Everett Hoffman, Kathleen Flynn and David Friedman.

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