LEXINGTON, Ky. A federal appeals court ruled today that a Kentucky courthouse can keep its display of the Ten Commandments because other historic documents also are included.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a lower court decision that found the display at the Mercer County courthouse in Harrodsburg is constitutionally acceptable.
The court said the commandments are viewed alongside nine other documents, including the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. The font size is no different for any of them, the court noted, and there was no attempt to put the religious document at a higher level.
“When placed on a level with other documents having such unquestioned civil, legal and political influence, the Commandments’ own historical significance becomes more pronounced,” the panel said in its ruling in ACLU v. Mercer County.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer in McCreary County v. ACLU that courthouse displays of the Ten Commandments in Pulaski and McCreary counties were unconstitutional. However, in a separate ruling in Van Orden v. Perry, the Court said an exhibit in Texas could remain because it included other historical markers and had been in place for about 40 years.
The American Civil Liberties Union brought the case against Mercer County, arguing the display violated the Constitution’s guarantee separating church and state.
The appeals court said the ACLU was relying on a false understanding of that clause.
“This extraconstitutional construct has grown tiresome,” it wrote. “The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state. Our nation’s history is replete with governmental acknowledgment and in some cases, accommodation of religion.”