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McCREARY COUNTY, KENTUCKY, et al. v. AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF KENTUCKY et al., 545 U.S. ---

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McCREARY COUNTY, KENTUCKY, et al. v. AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF KENTUCKY et al.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

No. 03-1693.Argued March 2, 2005--Decided June 27, 2005

After petitioners, two Kentucky Counties, each posted large, readily visible copies of the Ten Commandments in their courthouses, respondents, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) et al., sued under 42 U. S. C. §1983 to enjoin the displays on the ground that they violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The Counties then adopted nearly identical resolutions calling for a more extensive exhibit meant to show that the Commandments are Kentucky's "precedent legal code." The resolutions noted several grounds for taking that position, including the state legislature's acknowledgment of Christ as the "Prince of Ethics." The displays around the Commandments were modified to include eight smaller, historical documents containing religious references as their sole common element, e.g., the Declaration of Independence's "endowed by their Creator" passage. Entering a preliminary injunction, the District Court followed the Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, test to find, inter alia, that the original display lacked any secular purpose because the Commandments are a distinctly religious document, and that the second version lacked such a purpose because the Counties narrowly tailored their selection of foundational documents to those specifically referring to Christianity. After changing counsel, the Counties revised the exhibits again. No new resolution authorized the new exhibits, nor did the Counties repeal the resolutions that preceded the second one. The new posting, entitled "The Foundations of American Law and Government Display," consists of nine framed documents of equal size. One sets out the Commandments explicitly identified as the "King James Version," quotes them at greater length, and explains that they have profoundly influenced the formation of Western legal thought and this Nation. With the Commandments are framed copies of, e.g., the Star Spangled Banner's lyrics and the Declaration of Independence, accompanied by statements about their historical and legal significance. On the ACLU's motion, the District Court included this third display in the injunction despite the Counties' professed intent to show that the Commandments were part of the foundation of American Law and Government and to educate County citizens as to the documents. The court took proclaiming the Commandments' foundational value as a religious, rather than secular, purpose under Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39, and found that the Counties' asserted educational goals crumbled upon an examination of this litigation's history. Affirming, the Sixth Circuit stressed that, under Stone, displaying the Commandments bespeaks a religious object unless they are integrated with a secular message. The court saw no integration here because of a lack of a demonstrated analytical or historical connection between the Commandments and the other documents.

Held:


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