McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky

Last modified 2011.09.15

  • Status Closed
  • Type Amicus
  • Court U.S. Supreme Court
  • Issues Government-Supported Religion, Religious Displays

This case began as a challenge to solitary displays of the Ten Commandments in two county courthouses. After the plaintiffs filed suit, the Counties authorized a second, expanded display, by nearly identical resolutions stating, among other things, that Jesus Christ is “the Prince of Ethics.” The expanded display called for adding eight other documents, in smaller frames than the Ten Commandments, each either having a religious theme or excerpted to highlight a religious element. For example, the display included the “endowed by their Creator” passage from the Declaration of Independence.

After the district court issued a preliminary injunction against this second display, the Counties removed the added items and put in their place the complete texts of the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, Star Spangled Banner, and Mayflower Compact of 1620, a picture of Lady Justice, the National Motto, and the emblem and preamble to the Kentucky Constitution. The district court then supplemented the injunction to prohibit this display as well. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, and the Supreme Court took the case.

In January 2005 AU, joined by allied groups, filed an amicus brief arguing that the purpose prong of the Lemon test should be retained and strengthened. In a decision issued on June 27, 2005, the Court accepted our arguments. The Court held that a display will be upheld only if the government’s primary purpose for erecting it was secular rather than religious, and that the Kentucky displays were thus unconstitutional.


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