ACLU v. McCreary County

In ACLU v. McCreary County, 354 F.3d 438 (6th Cir.2003), cert. granted, U.S. 125 S.Ct. 310, 160 L.Ed.2d 221 (U.S. Oct. 12, 2004) (No. 03-1693), aff'd U.S. 125 S.Ct. 2722, 162 L.Ed.2d 729 (2005), two Kentucky counties, McCreary and Pulaski Counties (collectively, "the Counties"),3 originally posted standalone copies of the Ten Commandments in their respective courthouses. 125 S.Ct. at 2728. The McCreary County legislative body required that the display be placed in "`a very high traffic area.'" Id. (quoting ACLU v. McCreary County, 96 F.Supp.2d 679, 684 (E.D.Ky.2000)). Both of the displays were "`readily visible'" and confronted "`citizens who use the courthouse to conduct their civic business, to obtain or renew driver's licenses. . . , to register cars, to pay local taxes, and to register to vote.'" Id. (quoting McCreary County, 96 F.Supp.2d at 684). The Pulaski County Judge-Executive presided over the ceremony to hang the display. Id. Accompanying him was the pastor of the Judge-Executive's church. Id. The Judge-Executive told "the story of an astronaut who became convinced `there must be a divine God' after viewing the Earth from the moon." Id. The pastor "testified to the certainty of the existence of God," id. at 2738, and said that the display was "one of the greatest things the judge could have done to close out the millennium," id. at 2728.16 The ACLU of Kentucky brought suit against both counties for alleged violations of the Establishment Clause. Id. at 2729. After suit but before a ruling on the motion for injunction, both counties authorized second displays to replace the standalone displays. Id. In support of their measures, the counties stated the following in nearly identical resolutions: "The Ten Commandments are codified in Kentucky's civil and criminal laws"; . . . the Kentucky House of Representatives. . . in 1993 "voted unanimously . . . to adjourn . . . `in remembrance and honor of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Ethics'"; . . . the "County Judge and . . . magistrates agree with the arguments set out by Judge Roy Moore" in defense of his "display of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom"; and . . . the "Founding Fathers had an explicit understanding of the duty of elected officials to publicly acknowledge God as the source of America's strength and direction." Def. Exh. 1, at 1-3, 6. Id. The counties then hung expanded displays that included not only copies of the Ten Commandments but also eight other documents in smaller frames, "each either having a religious theme or excerpted to highlight a religious element." Id. These documents were the "endowed by their Creator" passage from the Declaration of Independence; the Preamble to the Constitution of Kentucky; the national motto, "In God We Trust"; a page from the Congressional Record of February 2, 1983, proclaiming the Year of the Bible and including a statement of the Ten Commandments; a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln designating April 30, 1863, a National Day of Prayer and Humiliation; an excerpt from President Lincoln's "Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible," reading that "the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man"; a proclamation by President Ronald Reagan marking 1983 the Year of the Bible; and the Mayflower Compact. Id. at 2729-30. The district court granted the motion for preliminary injunction and ordered the displays removed immediately. Id. at 2730. After changing counsel, both counties then erected a third exhibit entitled "`The Foundations of American Law and Government Display.'" Id. at 2730-31. The resolution authorizing the second display was not repealed (at least not until after oral argument before the Supreme Court, id. at 2740 n. 19), and no new resolution was passed authorizing a third display, id. at 2739. Only after the ACLU sought to enjoin this third display did the counties articulate any secular purposes for the displays. See id. at 2731. The district court expanded the injunction to enjoin the posting of all three displays, finding "the assertion that the Counties' broader educational goals are secular `crumbles . . . upon examination of the history of this litigation.'" Id. (quoting ACLU v. McCreary County, 145 F.Supp.2d 845, 849 (E.D.Ky.2001)) The Court affirmed. McCreary County, 354 F.3d at 462.