Monday, June 27, 2005


While many in the media are calling the Supreme Court of the United States split in it's two decisions today regarding displays of the Ten Commandments, I believe that it actually set some middle ground based on the context that such displays are done.

In the case of Van Orden -v- Perry, the Commandments are displayed on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol in Austin along with 21 historical markers and 17 monuments. The marker had been donated to the state 40 years ago by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. The Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that such a display is not unconstitutional as it was not an overtly religious symbol in the context that it was one of a number of monuments on the grounds.

However, in another 5-4 vote the Court decided in McCreary County, Kentucky -vs- American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, et al that the Ten Commandments displayed in two courthouses run afoul of the seperation of church and state. In this case, the counties in question, according to the decision:

"...adopted nearly identical resolutions calling for a more extensive exhibit meant to show that the Commandments are Kentucky's "precedent legal code." The resolutions noted several grounds for taking that position, including the state legislature's acknowledgement of Christ as the "Prince of Ethics.""

Here, the display was definately had a more religious meaning, and the Court was correct to rule against the counties.

A couple of years ago here in Polk County, a Baptist preacher raised funds with help from the American Heritage Foundation to have a monunemt constructed and placed in the lobby of the county administration building in Bartow. The ACLU originally has serious doubts about what has become known as the "Heritage Rock", as did I, but withdrew it's objections once it was placed. The display includes the Ten Commandments as well as inscriptions of several historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. and Florida Constitutions, the Mayflower Compact, and the Magna Carta. In this case, the Commandments are not given any more or less prominance, so the historical context is preserved and there is no overt religious statement being made.

There's nothing wrong in showing the Commandments in a public place, as long as they are displayed in such a historical context and not intended, as was apparantly the case in Kentucky and Alabama, as a means of government to show favour of one religion over another. We have to remember that now, as when the nation was born, we are a highly diverse people that have wide ranging beliefs, and we should acknowledge and respect that diversity.


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