- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2003

A federal court in Kentucky has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the ACLU that challenged the constitutionality of a county courthouse display that included the Ten Commandments among a series of historical and legal texts.
"The court is extremely clear that the display [in the Mercer County, Ky., courthouse] does not violate the Constitution and merely acknowledges the role that the Ten Commandments has played in the formation of our nation's heritage and history," said Francis J. Manion, senior counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which defended Mercer County in the case.
"This decision is an important victory underscoring the fact that such a display is an acknowledgement of history, not an endorsement of religion," Mr. Manion added.
At issue was the Foundations of American Law and Government exhibit in the courthouse, which includes framed copies of the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta, "The Star-Spangled Banner," the national motto "In God We Trust," the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
In a ruling released Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Karl S. Forester in Lexington wrote that the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky "initiated this controversy on Nov. 27, 2001, by filing a complaint … alleging that a display in the Mercer County Courthouse violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."
The ACLU held that the inclusion of the Ten Commandments in the display "constitutes the establishment [or endorsement] of religion by Mercer County." It sought a preliminary injunction, which, if approved, would have required the immediate removal of the public exhibit.
Judge Forester rejected the ACLU's request, but gave the group an additional four months to come up with other reasons to justify its claim that the display is unconstitutional.
When the ACLU failed to respond to the extended deadline, the Virginia-based ACLJ filed a motion for a summary judgment to dismiss the plaintiff's suit.
Judge Forester approved the ACLJ's motion in a six-page opinion he filed with the court Wednesday.
The federal judge concluded: "The display clearly has a legitimate purpose of, including but not limited to, acknowledging the historical influence of the Commandments on the development of this country's laws, and the record is devoid of any evidence indicating a religious purpose by the government.
"In addition, for the reasons previously stated, the primary purpose or effect of the display is not to endorse religion as a matter of law," Judge Forester added.
Mr. Manion said the ruling is a "tremendous affirmation that the legal attack aimed at removing the Ten Commandments from places like the Mercer County courthouse is legally flawed and without merit."
"This is a way government can put the Ten Commandments up and survive a constitutional challenge," he said in a telephone interview.
But David Friedman, the ACLU's general counsel in Kentucky, yesterday strongly disagreed with that assessment.
"And we'll be arguing our case before the appeals court," meaning the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Mr. Friedman added.
He noted that "two other district courts [in Kentucky] have gone our way" in cases debating the constitutionality of displays featuring the Ten Commandments with texts of other historical documents on public property.


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