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Ky. School Displays 10 Commandments

August 12, 1999

MCKEE, Ky. (AP) _ Students returning to classes at Jackson County High School hardly paid attention to the new small plaques mounted in their classrooms. Maybe the new dress code was on their minds.

But officials in this eastern Kentucky school district hope that by posting the Ten Commandments in each classroom, they can prevent violence and other problems that have plagued schools nationwide.

The county school board and superintendent allowed the plaques as part of ``an effort to start having good morals in school ... because of all the violent issues that have been showing up,″ said Betty Bond, principal of the high school.

The plaques went up Wednesday.

Schools around the country have considered using the Ten Commandments as a symbol of morality amid headline-grabbing violence involving students over the past year.

In the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that organized prayer and Bible readings were not permitted in public schools; in 1980, it decided posting the Ten Commandments violated the Constitution’s ban of government-established religion.

But in June, the U.S. House passed a measure allowing the Ten Commandments to be posted in schools and other government buildings. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Timothy Crawford, Jackson County’s school district attorney, said he is concerned about lawsuits, but believes the plaques in the district’s five schools are allowed by law because they were paid for and posted by local volunteers and not sponsored by the district.

``I do not believe posting the Ten Commandments is imposing anyone’s religious views because the kids are not tested on that, the kids are not required to look at it, and the kids are not required to read it, and they’re not held accountable for that knowledge,″ Crawford said.

Tonya Adams, principal of Union Chapel Elementary School in Russell County, which has had the Ten Commandments posted for years, said she’s never received any complaints about it.

``People in our community would probably be upset if they were taken away,″ Adams said.

In Adams County, Ohio, a group of ministers paid to place Ten Commandments tablets outside four high schools to counter ``moral decline.″

Jeff Vessels, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the ACLU considers the move unconstitutional, but would not act unless there is a complaint.

``The ACLU is certainly very concerned about school violence, but saying posting the Ten Commandments solves it is incredibly simplistic,″ he said.

Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said the organization tells districts to follow the Supreme Court ruling and not allow the Ten Commandments to be posted. He said a lawsuit could cost a district up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There was virtually no opposition from the community about the plaques, and students returning to the high school said little about them.

``We have a new dress code this year, and I suspect in the children’s mind that’s much more of a trauma than the Ten Commandments being placed up because this is a very traditional community and really church-oriented,″ Bond said.

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