DULUTH - The Ten Commandments display painted inside the Itasca County jail is no more, painted over with two coats.

The list of religious texts stood two stories high inside the jail's gym until earlier this month, part of a recently completed $75 million justice complex in Grand Rapids. Other inspirational and religious quotes painted inside the jail were also covered, said Brett Skyles, Itasca County administrator.

"Ultimately, it just had to do with defending the situation and how many public dollars might be at risk there," he said, noting Sheriff Joe Dasovich made the decision to repaint. Dasovich was unavailable for comment Monday.

The oversized display was discovered during tours of the new northeast Minnesota facility. The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation had received 20 complaints by the end of April, many contending the displays were unconstitutional. It sent a letter to the county asking it to investigate and remove the religious writings.

Last week, residents packed a tense County Board meeting, many criticizing the commissioners for leaving the decision to the sheriff. One man called them cowards for playing to a "very small minority" and another compared the commandments to laws, saying the county may as well do away with speed limits if it's going to remove the commandments.

Grand Rapids resident Deborah Salisbury pleaded with the board to keep the walls as they were, saying inmates would benefit from exposure to the religious guidance.

"Some don't even know the name of Jesus until they come in here," she said.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation argued that the religious displays violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which says government must remain neutral about religion. One quote painted on cell block walls and attributed to former President Ronald Reagan reads, "Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face."

The foundation said Monday it was pleased that "the Constitution prevailed over the desire of some county officials to create a coercive religious environment."

"These displays imposed religious views on a literal captive audience," said its co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, in a statement. "Even those who are incarcerated have the right to be free from religion."

Jail administrator Lucas Thompson made the decision to install the quotes and commandments. The County Board initially determined the size of the project, Skyles said, but it didn't "pick the color of the carpet or where TVs go or anything in the jail."

He didn't have figures readily available for the cost of either paint project.

County commissioners told constituents last week they'd received hundreds of emails, calls and texts about the religious writings, more in favor than against. Several commissioners pointed to their own Christianity and explained they'd prefer to leave the walls untouched.

"I will go down swinging on this one but it has to follow proper channels," Commissioner Casey Venema said.

Dasovich, elected in 2023, said previously that because voluntary faith-based programs offered at the jail are well-attended, he didn't foresee opposition from inmates.

Itasca County resident Karen Ferlaak complained to the County Board about the religious nature of the artwork and of the expense.

"I don't mind sayings on the walls if they're accurate and they're not religious-based," she said, noting some of the quotes were attributed incorrectly. "We're upset over the cost of having to repaint and the cost for putting it up [in the first place]. We just need to stay in our own lane. It wasn't well thought out."

The state Corrections Department ordered the former Itasca County jail replaced because of deterioration. Instead of a 10% increase to property taxes, county residents approved a 1% sales tax in 2022.