Wednesday, July 9, 2003

State pays ACLU $121,500 in Ten Commandments fight

The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - The state has paid $121,500 to the American Civil Liberties Union after the ACLU won a court challenge to a Ten Commandments monument outside the Capitol.

The state must pay the ACLU's legal fees because it lost the case.

The 2000 General Assembly passed legislation allowing the placement of the marble monument near the floral clock that's the featured display in the area between the Capitol and the Capitol Annex. The monument was donated in 1971 and now is in storage.

The ACLU challenged the legislation as unconstitutional. Lawmakers, represented by Attorney General Ben Chandler, lost in April when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal.

The state has paid nearly $700,000 to the ACLU in legal challenges involving state abortion and religion laws that the courts ultimately struck down.

Beth Wilson, interim director of the Kentucky ACLU, said the payment should send a message to legislators who pass laws unlikely to meet constitutional muster. But she said she was ambivalent about using taxpayers' money during a state budget crisis.

"We take no joy in getting this money from the state, but we are glad we are here and have attorneys to protect citizens' constitutional rights," she said.

The state paid the ACLU $277,000 in 1994 and $299,500 in 2001 in costs incurred in challenges to laws restricting abortions.

The state lawmaker who sponsored the Ten Commandments bill, Republican Sen. Albert Robinson of London, said legislators won't be deterred from passing similar bills in the future.

"It's a shame that we have to use taxpayers' money to defend what God and our forefathers gave us," Robinson said.

"God is on our money, in our pledge, in our national song and is etched on the marble in the U.S. Supreme Court. Why can't we have a monument that allows this?"

State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, called the payments a "waste of taxpayers' money." She opposed the monument legislation. She said she's increasingly frustrated by lawmakers' insistence on passing bills likely to be struck down in court.

Attorney general spokesman Brian Wright said the office "believed the legislation was constitutional and the principles involved were important enough to take to the nation's highest court."

The cost to the attorney general's office for its work in the Ten Commandments case was $12,781.

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