Commandments Decision Saddens Bible Belt

The Supreme Court's split rulings on the constitutionality of public Ten Commandments (search) displays left some in the Bible Belt confused, and in Kentucky, at least, quite a few angry.

"We will abide by the ruling of the Supreme Court," said Blaine Phillips, McCreary County's judge-executive, or top administrator. "However, we want to encourage our citizens not to give up the fight."

The court ruled on Monday that a granite replica of the commandments in Texas, which had been on the state Capitol grounds for more than 40 years and was surrounded by secular war monuments, did not violate the Establishment clause (search).

But framed copies of the commandments in two Kentucky courthouses were found by five justices to be the equivalent of governmental endorsement of religion.

Residents of McCreary and Pulaski counties were clearly disappointed by the court's ruling.

"I'm heartbroken," said former McCreary County (search) Judge-Executive Jimmie Greene. "I'm devastated, to be honest with you."

That sentiment was no doubt felt elsewhere in the country. Christian conservatives who believe the Founding Fathers saw the Ten Commandments as the basis for American law have been fighting what they see as a "hostility" to faith in the U.S. courts.

In a second 5-4 decision Monday, the Supreme Court considered the commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol — one of 17 historical displays on the lot — and determined it to be a legitimate tribute to the nation's legal and religious history.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (search), who lost his job two years ago after refusing to remove a giant replica of the sacred tablets he had placed in his courthouse, said the Supreme Court erred in its Kentucky ruling.

"We're talking about acknowledging the God on which this nation was built. Certainly the court has no authority to forbid that acknowledgment," Moore said on "FOX & Friends."

"I think that was said very clearly in Justice [Antonin] Scalia's dissent," Moore added. "He said that the court has in the last 40 years taken a turn off the main road here. They've started to say that governments can't acknowledge God, and nothing allows that except their own say-so."

McCreary and Pulaski, neighboring counties in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, couldn't be more fitting places for such a stand. Fundamentalist Christian churches dot the hills and hollows, along with road signs urging travelers to repent and turn their lives to Jesus.

Officials first hung framed copies of the Ten Commandments in their courthouses in 1999 — and later added other documents, such as the Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence — after such displays were challenged as religious by the American Civil Liberties Union (search).

At the height of the controversy, residents of the two counties — both of which forbid sales of alcohol — took to planting blue-and-white Ten Commandments markers on their front lawns to show their support.

"They take prayer out of schools, they take the Ten Commandments down and they wonder what's wrong with our society. It's just wrong," said Joe Kidd, who was working at a fireworks stand in Whitley City.

Elsewhere in the state, many officials hoped their displays wouldn't meet the same fate.

The commandments were still posted Monday near the front doors to the Mercer County courthouse in Harrodsburg, once an early frontier town in Kentucky's Bluegrass region. The commandments are part of a display featuring other famous documents, identically framed.

In northeastern Kentucky, a similar display, including the Ten Commandments, hovered on a wall in the fiscal courtroom in the Rowan County courthouse as county magistrates met Monday.

Both counties are among a handful in the state still in a legal fight with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky over displays that include the commandments.

David Friedman, who successfully argued the ACLU's case before the Supreme Court, said Monday's ruling reaffirmed a core principle — "that government and religion should not become impermissibly entangled."

Friedman said the ACLU would vigorously pursue its remaining cases.

Many legal experts observed that Monday's rulings did little to clarify the law on public religious displays. In other words, Americans should be prepared to see more litigation.

Justice Clarence Thomas "said it's leaving everyone in a confused state. Believers, unbelievers, governments — any person that wants to have a religious display now has to go before a court and ask whether they can do that," Moore said.

"There are consequences to this that people don't realize. When you distance yourself from God and you say this nation can't recognize God, you give up inalienable rights," he added.

In early 2003, a federal judge dismissed the ACLU's lawsuit seeking to remove the Ten Commandments from the Mercer County courthouse. That case is pending before a federal appeals court. The same judge refused the ACLU's request for a preliminary injunction to take down public commandment displays in Rowan and Garrard counties.

Meanwhile, only the frame remains in what had been a Ten Commandments display in the Grayson County courthouse in western Kentucky. The ACLU previously won an injunction from another federal judge ordering that the commandments be taken off the courthouse wall.

Framed copies of other documents — including the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights — are still on the courthouse wall.

"We'll still hope and pray and continue fighting to save them," Grayson County Judge-Executive Gary Logsdon said.

Logsdon said the commandments display was important to residents.

"We're a believer in God, and we're a moral community," he said. "We preach it and teach it to our children."

Speaking to reporters at his downtown Louisville law office, Friedman said he welcomed people celebrating and displaying the commandments, just not on government property.

"They should do it in their homes, in their religious institutions, on their cars, in their businesses and not through their government," he said. "The government is all of ours, and it can only be all of ours when it remains neutral."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.