To wade into that always exciting area of cross-over between politics and religion, the USSC today ruled on two separate state displays of the 10 Commandments – TX and KY. In a bizarre opinion that follows the USSC’s convoluted and ridiculously complicated jurisprudential line on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the court sets up a multi-factor, clear-as-mud test on when such displays are legal under the Establishment Clause.
I’ll follow with some more interpretation after this summary post:
High Court Splits Verdict
On Commandment Displays
Justices Decline to Hear Appeals
From Journalists Over Sources
By JESS BRAVIN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
June 27, 2005 2:01 p.m.
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court delivered a split verdict on closely watched religious-symbol cases, ruling that a decades-old Ten Commandments monolith could remain on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, but also declaring that displays installed in courtrooms by religiously motivated Kentucky officials violated the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.
Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the court opinion in the Texas case, explaining that the context of the monolith, rather than its content, rendered it permissible. It had been erected on the capitol grounds in 1961, as part of a program by a fraternal organization to donate Ten Commandments monoliths to public facilities across the country, and stood today among more than a dozen other monuments commemorating causes ranging from Texas pioneer women to Confederate soldiers.
In the Kentucky case, however, the court observed that county officials had in official resolutions cited their religious aims in installing the displays, asserting that the Founding Fathers had endorsed “the duty of elected officials to acknowledge God as the source of America’s strength and direction.” Although the displays were altered several times in an attempt to lessen their religious message, the opinion by Justice David Souter explained that the counties’ motives in installing the display were significant in evaluating their constitutionality.
In both cases, the court affirmed lower court decisions that, for similar reasons, had upheld the Texas monolith but struck down the Kentucky displays. But the members of the court split widely in their reasoning, filing a series of concurring and dissenting opinions that led Chief Justice Rehnquist to quip before the packed chamber, “I didn’t know we had that many people on our court.”
The most striking opinions came from Justice Antonin Scalia, concurring in the Texas case and dissenting from Kentucky. He urged reversal of precedent that required distance between public authorities and religion because “there is nothing unconstitutional in a state’s favoring religion generally, honoring God through public prayer and acknowledgment, or, in a nonproselytizing manner, venerating the Ten Commandments.”
The cases are Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary County v. ACLU.