Supreme Court Rules 10 Commandments OK in Texas, Not In Kentucky
The United States Supreme Court, adding to a series of baffling rulings this week, ruled that displaying the Ten Commandments outside government buildings was more acceptable than displaying them inside government buildings-except for the display in the Supreme Court itself.
The decisions reflected two separate but related cases, one involving two county courtrooms in Kentucky, and the land just outside the capitol building in Austin, Texas.
According to the high court, it is a case-by-case judgment reflecting whether the intent of the display is religious or historical. How, exactly, to determine the level of religiosity or historicity was left unclear.
In McCreary County v. ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against two county courthouses in Kentucky to procure the removal of their displays of the Ten Commandments inside. In defiance of the suit, the counties added other documents to their displays to demonstrate “America’s Christian heritage.” The national motto “In God We Trust” as well as a 1983 Congressional declaration naming that year the “Year of the Bible.”
A federal court then ruled against the counties saying that the new display had the effect of endorsing religion. Not to be deterred, the counties, ad hoc, added the Bill of Rights and the Star-Spangled Banner to the display to demonstrate “our system of law and government.”
The 6th US Circuit Court of Appeal didn’t buy it and labeled the modifications a “sham.”
This led to the Supreme Court taking up the Ten Commandments case for the first time in three decades. In a 5-4 split decision, the justices decided the Kentucky courtroom framed displays violated the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution by endorsing a particular religion. What’s more, displays inside government buildings would be judged on a case-by-case basis.
The second ruling, equally as split 5-4, was regarding a six-foot granite monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas capitol. The court ruled that the monument could remain.
“Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment clause,” said Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who wrote the majority opinion.
While the court criticized the particulars around the Kentucky cases as overemphasizing religion, the Texas capitol monument was one piece of a 17-piece historical display on a 22-acre lot.
“The monument is not a work of art and does not refer to any event in the history of the state,” opined dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens. “The message transmitted by Texas’ chosen display is quite plain: This state endorses the divine code of the Judeo-Christian God.”
Justice Antonin Scalia also dissented, waylaying with the strongest words of the opposing side of the debate.
“What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle,” said Scalia.
Recent polls by the Associated Press have indicated that 76% of Americans favor the display of the Ten Commandments.