|A disagreement about the wording of a
state highway historical marker for the St. Joseph
grotto could be over, because the Kentucky attorney
general's office said in a recent letter that the text
is not unconstitutional.
The Kentucky Historical Society received a complaint
last fall about the marker's wording -- which refers to
an appearance by the Virgin Mary in France -- contending
that it violated the principle of separation of church
and state. The society had notified the St. Joseph Area
Association that the wording might need to be changed,
which the association opposed.
"Plainly, this marker does not convey a message of
governmental endorsement of religion," says the letter,
written for Attorney General Greg Stumbo by Robert S.
Jones, executive director of Stumbo's office of civil
and environmental law.
The letter was sent to state Rep. Jim Wayne,
D-Louisville, after he inquired about the
constitutionality of the marker's wording at the request
of the neighborhood association.
Alice Rogers, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky
Historical Society, which oversees the marker program,
said yesterday that she had not seen Jones' letter and
needed to consult the society's staff before commenting
on how it might affect any possible rewording.
"I think it affirms what we said all along," said
Mike Zanone, vice president of the neighborhood
association. "There was a lot of thought that went into
the wording of the marker."
Gail Linville, the group's president, said she has
received messages and calls supporting the association's
The marker was put up on Bradley Avenue last year to
honor the nearby Grotto and Garden of Our Lady of
Lourdes, which was built in 1927 on the grounds of the
old St. Joseph Infirmary, a Catholic hospital that was
razed in 1980.
The marker says the local grotto is modeled on the
natural grotto at Lourdes, in southwest France, "where
Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858."
Jones' letter says an earlier official opinion from
the attorney general's office concerning state support
for preservation of the grotto is also applicable to the
That opinion said the University of Louisville, which
owns the grotto property, may authorize the restoration
of the grotto, a "registered state and local historical
landmark," by the neighborhood association "because of
its cultural and historical value to the Louisville
The opinion, as described in the letter, says that
"so long as the language on the marker does not advocate
a religious perspective and instead limits the language
to historical issues, it meets applicable First
Reporter Martha Elson can be reached at (502)