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Ten Commandments, other issues generating debate in Ky.

By The Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A civic group will send a Ten Commandments monument back to Frankfort only if political leaders give assurances that it will be displayed publicly, as a new law allows.

"We gave it to them once, and they put it in storage," said Jim West, a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Hopkinsville. "It's too beautiful a monument to be sitting in storage."

Gov. Ernie Fletcher signed a bill into law last month that allows the 6-foot-tall granite monument to be returned to the Capitol grounds.

The Ten Commandments monument was part of an ever-growing list of religious issues that Fletcher and other political leaders have dealt with this year.

The latest issue, which popped up April 10, deals with whether the state's public schools should drop the traditional B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, Latin for "in the year of the Lord") when referring to historical dates. (Editor's note: On June 14 the state school board scrapped its plan to switch to alternative date designations.)

Both issues are considered catalysts that would motivate Kentucky's conservative Christians to vote in this year's elections.

Fletcher said the commandments monument would be accompanied by a historical explanation.

"The Ten Commandments do represent a sacred religious text," Fletcher said. "We all acknowledge that. But we cannot deny the commandments' significant impact on culture, history and the laws of Kentucky, as well as the laws of the United States."

The Eagles donated the Ten Commandments monument to the state in 1971. It was removed from the Capitol grounds and placed in storage in the mid-1980s during a construction project. When political leaders tried to display it again in 2000, the American Civil Liberties Union went to court, claiming the monument was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The ACLU won the case.

After that, the state gave the monument back to the Eagles. It now has a prominent position at the organization's lodge in Hopkinsville, fully visible alongside Fort Campbell Boulevard, the main road leading to one of Army's most storied military installations.

Lawmakers passed a bill calling for the return of the monument. The same bill granted permission to local governments to post displays of the commandments in courthouses and other public buildings.

Kentucky has been at the center of legal fights in recent years on the posting of the commandments. In one case, McCreary County v. ACLU, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled displays inside courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski counties were unconstitutional. In another, Mercer County v. ACLU, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a similar display in the Mercer County Courthouse is constitutional because it included other historic documents.

West said the Eagles are not opposed to returning the monument to Frankfort, if it is given a spot on the Capitol grounds as the new law directs.

"We're open for discussion on it," he said. "We've had discussions with some people, but nobody with any real authority."

Fletcher, surrounded by lawmakers at a ceremonial signing of the Ten Commandments bill on April 10, said he opposed dropping the B.C. and A.D. dating system in what one conservative Christian group says is an effort by the state school board to be politically correct.

"This is an attempt to religiously sterilize the teaching of history in our schools," said Martin Cothran, a policy analyst for the Family Foundation in Lexington.

Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said a draft of a revamped, 600-page guidebook for teachers does recommend the change. However, a final version that may be considered by the state board would propose using all four abbreviations.

"To me, this is a tempest in a teapot," Gross said. "There's no move here to de-Christianize anything."

Gross said C.E. and B.C.E. were coming into widespread use, and Kentucky students needed to be exposed to the terms in case they encounter them on college placement tests.

"This is not anything other than trying to provide the most complete educational information to our students in public schools," she said.

Supreme Court won't hear Kentucky Ten Commandments case
Justices let stand 6th Circuit ruling that found 6-foot granite monument can't be placed near state Capitol. 04.29.03


Supreme Court splits on 2 Ten Commandments cases

Justices rule 5-4 that Kentucky courthouse displays cross church-state line, but allow outdoor Decalogue monument on Texas Capitol grounds.

Full 8th Circuit OKs Nebraska commandments display
Court reverses earlier ruling by three-judge panel that had said monument must be removed from city park in Plattsmouth. 08.19.05

Federal court OKs Washington city's commandments display
Judge says monument outside Everett police station 'poses no threat' to residents' religious freedoms. 09.14.05

Ten Commandments can stay on Ohio courthouse lawn
Federal judge says Toledo monument honors tradition, doesn't promote specific religious belief. 04.20.06

6th Circuit refuses to reconsider Ky. Ten Commandments case
Dissenting judge argues Mercer County's display is similar to displays in Pulaski, McCreary counties that were struck down by U.S. Supreme Court. 04.25.06

Ten Commandments: Religious message or civics lesson?
By Charles C. Haynes Though Supreme Court may finally set guidelines for government displays of the religious codes, the controversy won't end. 10.17.04

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