(CN) – The Supreme Court declined, without comment, to review an order barring two Kentucky counties from displaying framed copies of the Ten Commandments in their county courthouses.
A split panel from the 6th Circuit in June upheld a finding against McCreary and Pulaski counties in their attempts to post the Judeo-Christian insignia. The counties continued their efforts despite a finding from the Supreme Court in 2005 that the displays violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
Tuesday’s decision is the latest in the more-than-decade-long saga over the displays. The counties have spent years trying to secularize them by including excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the Mayflower Compact and the preamble to the Kentucky Constitution. They also passed new “resolutions” authorizing the modified displays and emphasizing the importance of religion in historical documents. In another modification, the counties renamed the displays the Foundations of Law and Government Displays. This third set of documents contained nine documents of equal size, including the Ten Commandments, and a one-page explanation for each.
The American Civil Liberties Union and others filed the original suit, which had been decided in 2000 against the counties. U.S. District Judge Jennifer Coffman found in that ruling that the counties were still motivated by an unconstitutional religious purpose.
In 2005 the Supreme Court upheld the Coffman’s injunction on the basis that the displays, regardless of the changes, lead an objective observer to “suspect that the counties were simply reaching for any way to keep a religious document on the walls of the courthouses constitutionally required to embody neutrality.”
The high court has held that a secular purpose “has to be genuine, not a sham, and not merely secondary to a religious objective.”
Judge Coffman permanently barred the displays on remand, and the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit agreed that the new resolutions did not eliminate the counties’ improper religious motive.
“These resolutions represent defendants’ latest effort in a long line of attempts to conform their conduct to the requirements of the Constitution after adverse court rulings,” Circuit Judge Eric Clay wrote for the majority in that decision.
“Defendants have spent the time since the Supreme Court decision continuously seeking to accomplish their initial purpose of posting the Ten Commandments as a religious document,” the decision continued.
Similar displays were upheld by the 6th Circuit, including one in Grayson County, Ky., because that case lacked the background at issue in this case, the 6th Circuit had ruled.