Ten Commandments - An Issue in our Courts
On February 25, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a lower court's ban on displaying the Ten Commandments on government property, leaving states confused over whether such monuments are constitutional.
The court declined to hear an appeal by Indiana Governor Frank O'Bannon. The governor had asked the court to overturn rulings that prevented his office from placing a 7-foot stone monument of the Ten Commandments on the capitol lawn in Indianapolis. Petitioners from a number of states had urged the Supreme Court to hear the case to help settle at least nine conflicting court opinions around the country. Lower courts in Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois have prohibited the display of the Ten Commandments on public property, while courts in Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Utah have allowed them.
This same issue came before the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2001. At that time, the justices were sharply divided over the court’s decision not to take the case. Three justices -- Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas -- spoke out and said the court not only should have taken the case, but that it should have decided in favor of displaying the Ten Commandments. In Monday's case, these same three justices were silent. Procedurally, it takes at least four justices to vote to accept a case, and five to decide it.
As currently interpreted, the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the government from establishing or promoting religion in general, or favoring one religion over another. It also bars the government from interfering with the free exercise of religion.
O'Bannon’s basic argument in the lower courts was that although the Ten Commandments stem from religious teachings, they are incorporated throughout U.S. law and history. For that reason, depictions of the Ten Commandments appear in many law schools and courtrooms around the country, including the Supreme Court.
However, two federal courts in Indiana ruled against O’Bannon and agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which argued that allowing the Ten Commandments monument would amount to government endorsement of religion. The governor’s office then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ten Commandments - The Highest Law in the Land
It appears that the Supreme Court may be one vote away from hearing the Ten Commandments case and resolving the issue. We argue that the First Amendment's establishment clause should not be interpreted so tightly as to prohibit every single mention of religion, especially in the context of religion’s historical role in society. Although the establishment clause precludes the government from specifically endorsing a particular religion, it, in no way, was intended to prohibit these types of displays, especially a moral/ethical/legal code such as the Ten Commandments. There are approximately 20 cases pending nationwide regarding government displays of the Ten Commandments. Make your voice heard.