No Ten Commandments

The struggle of Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore for the free exercise of religion in respect to the Ten Commandments is part of a national campaign to resist separationists trying to restrict the influence of these universal norms on American life. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other separationist groups have been waging a vigorous campaign against such displays. In November 2001, the ACLU of Kentucky simultaneously sued four Kentucky counties-Garrard, Grayson, Mercer, and Rowan-for their alleged unconstitutional displays of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, from county courthouses to hospitals. The ACLU had filed similar suits in 1999 against a number of county school districts for their Ten Commandments displays.

Meanwhile, more than half of Tennessee's ninety-five counties have the Ten Commandments posted on government property, and in at least thirty of these, the displays have been posted for decades. One county, Washington, has had its display for over eighty years. But neither the prevalence of the displays nor the manifest absence of harm they have caused through the years has deterred modern separationists from targeting them for extinction.

On April 19, 2002, officials of Rutherford County, near Nashville, placed a copy of the Ten Commandments in the county courthouse alongside other historical documents such as the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, and the Declaration of Independence.

The Tennessee ACLU filed suit, requesting a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction ordering the county to remove the Ten Commandments. Attorneys representing the county argued that the Ten Commandments were historical as well as religious, and that their historical role should not be suppressed because of their religious overtones. George Barrett, the attorney arguing on behalf of the ACLU's position, said, "History is replete with the disaster of government supporting one religion over another. There is nothing more divisive than this. The founders were clearly mindful of that history- 40 U.S. District Judge Robert Echols granted the injunction and ordered that the display be removed.

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