Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Ten Commandments donations dwindle

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — People who want the Ten Commandments posted in three Kentucky counties are beginning to worry that defense funds they have raised are dwindling fast.

        At least $66,000 has been raised since July 1999, by church groups and private citizens, to pay legal fees stemming from a federal lawsuit against Harlan County Schools and McCreary and Pulaski county governments.

        That doesn't include money spent by some groups, including Citizens for the Ten Command ments in Corbin, that aren't directly connected to the counties' defense funds.

        Fund-raisers have included everything from rallies to bake sales.

        According to government officials, a total of about $4,200 is left in defense funds in the three counties. At one point this month, McCreary County had less than $50.

        The lawsuit was filed in November 1999 by the American Civil Liberties Union, and there are no signs it will end soon. That has some officials worried about whether there will be enough money to continue the fight, and about what would happen if the defendants lose the case and are left to pay the ACLU's legal bills.

        “People's hearts are in the right places, but everybody is starting to hit hard times,” said Sidney Fee, former chairman of the Harlan County school board. “It was a big thing when this started, but it's old news now. We are looking at some hard times if the ACLU continues to push this.”

        The Rev. Danny Overton, treasurer of the Harlan County Ten Commandments Defense Fund, said donations have slowed since the summer.

        “The way it stands right now, our fund would be exhausted soon,” said the Rev. Mr. Overton, who said a little more than $3,400 remains in it.

        Still, some officials think supporters will continue to give until the case is resolved.

        “I'm sure if I went to put out a request for money, I'm sure it would be there,” McCreary Judge-executive Jimmie Greene said.

        The defendants originally were represented by attorney Ronald Ray of Crestwood and the law firm of Amshoff and Amshoff of Louisville. Later, they approached Liberty Counsel of Orlando, Fla., about taking the case. That nonprofit legal organization has taken the case at no charge, although it accepts donations from the three defense funds.

        On Nov. 20, for instance, the Pulaski County Legal Defense Fund sent a check to Liberty Counsel for $4,000.

        If the defendants win, they could pursue getting the ACLU to pay their legal fees. But the ACLU plans to attempt to recoup its legal fees if it wins, ACLU lawyer David Friedman said. He said he has no idea how high those fees could climb.

        This year, however, the group asked a federal judge to award more than $400,000 in legal fees tallied during a two-year fight over 1998 Kentucky legislation that focused on late-term abortions. And over the past 16 years, the ACLU has collected more than $300,000 from the state in cases involving other abortion laws that were found to be unconstitutional.


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