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Lower Courts Still Hear “Ten Commandments” Cases, Apply Supreme Court Ruling

A Feb. 4 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals extends part of a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that is still subject to extensive legal maneuvering in many parts of the country.

The court found that a display of historical documents by a Kentucky municipality was not unconstitutional, even though it contained the Ten Commandments of the Judeo-Christian Old Testament. The finding was made because the display also contained a range of secular documents.

Previously, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that displays that were intended to be religious in nature or unconstitutional were not to be displayed in local government buildings. The Supreme Court decision led to national controversy and debate as various municipalities “tried” their Ten Commandments displays in local courts.

Now, the broad and controversial contention over the Ten Commandments is being subjected to a higher level of detail. The recent Kentucky case shows that a municipality may be able to display religious documents if legal attempts against them are unable to prove a specific “religious intent.”

The Grayson County government in Kentucky created a practical application of this idea with a “Foundations of American Law and Government.” In this display, the Ten Commandments were displayed along with the full text of the Mayflower Compact and the full Declaration of Independence. Using an array of historical documents was enough to get the backing of the appeals court.

Some legal analysts believe it is unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court will be asked to return to their ruling on the Ten Commandments. Much of the process for determining the legality of these religious displays was played out during the last decade as radical judges and others argued vehemently for their right to display religious documents. The case in Grayson County, KY, shows a compromised approach by the judicial community, where specific documents and displays may be subjected to an overall judicial scrutiny that will show whether the intent violates the standing Supreme Court rulings.

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