In its 3-0 decision, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an earlier ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky and rejected an argument from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that the display in Harrodsburg violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Writing for the court, Circuit Judge Richard Suhrheinrich said that the ACLU's "repeated reference 'to the separation of church and state' ... has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state."
The court said the commandments are viewed alongside nine other documents, including the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. The font size is no different for any of them, the court noted, and there was no attempt to put the religious document at a higher level.
"When placed on a level with other documents having such unquestioned civil, legal and political influence, the Commandments' own historical significance becomes more pronounced," the court ruled.
Therefore, the judges said that a reasonable observer of Mercer County's display would appreciate "the role religion has played in our governmental institutions, and finds it historically appropriate and traditionally acceptable for a state to include religious influences, even in the form of sacred texts, in honoring American traditions."
Francis Manion, counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the nation's leading national public interest law firm defending religious liberty, argued the case on behalf of Mercer County at both the U.S. District Court and the Sixth Circuit.
"This is a big victory for the people of Mercer County and Kentucky generally," said Manion. "For too long, they have been lectured like children by those in the ACLU and elsewhere who claim to know what the people's Constitution really means.
"What the Sixth Circuit has said is that the people have a better grasp on the real meaning of the Constitution; the court recognizes that the Constitution does not require that we strip the public square of all vestiges of our religious heritage and traditions," he added.
In the words of the Sixth Circuit, "the ACLU, an organization whose mission is 'to ensure that ... the government [is kept] out of the religion business,' does not embody the reasonable person."
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