A federal appeals court panel has upheld a permanent injunction against three displays of the Ten Commandments at local courthouses in two Kentucky counties.
Wednesday’s 2-1 decision by the panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the purpose of the displays in McCreary County and Pulaski County was religious, rather than educational, and therefore violated the Establishment Clause.
“Plaintiffs have established that they suffered a constitutional violation and will suffer continuing irreparable injury if the violation continues,” Judge Eric L. Clay wrote in the opinion of the court.
“The fact that Defendants seek to minimize the residue of religious purpose does not mean that Plaintiffs do not suffer continuing irreparable injury so long as the display remains on the walls of the county courthouses. Thus, there is no adequate remedy at law, and Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are entitled to a permanent injunction,” he added.
In 1999, McCreary County and Pulaski County erected framed copies of the Ten Commandments for display in their courthouses, resulting in a lawsuit shortly after by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.
The ACLU of Kentucky, on behalf of its members in both counties and individual residents, maintained that the displays’ purpose and effect were to endorse religion in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause.
The counties, in response to the suit, removed the displays and initially appealed the injunction. They later dropped their appeals, however, after obtaining new counsel.
Several months after removing their displays, the counties posted new displays that featured historical documents as well as the Ten Commandments.
District Court Judge Jennifer Coffman, in response, ruled that the latest displays were likely unconstitutional as the displays’ history showed that the defendants’ purposes were religious, not secular, and because the displays’ effect was to endorse religion.
The judge therefore enjoined the third incarnation of the Ten Commandments displays, prompting the defendants to appeal the preliminary injunction.
Following Wednesday’s ruling, Liberty Counsel Founder Mathew Staver, who argued for the counties, announced that the battle “is far from over.”
“The Ten Commandments are part of the fabric of our country and helped shape our laws. They are as much at home in a display about the foundations of law as stars and stripes are in the American flag,” he stated. “The Founding Fathers would be outraged that we are even debating the constitutionality of the Ten Commandments.”
In Liberty Counsel’s announcement Wednesday, the Christian legal group pointed to the dissenting opinion of Judge James L. Ryan, who recommended a rehearing in front of the full Sixth Circuit panel of judges.
“Perhaps the panel’s decision in this case, taken together with this court’s decisions in ACLU v. Mercer County … and ACLU v. Grayson County … will move our court to reconsider en banc what my colleagues have held today, from which I strongly dissent,” the judge wrote, referring to other Ten Commandments cases.
In noting this, Liberty Counsel vowed to appeal.