Ten Commandments cases is hypocrisy beyond the pale

By Noble Johns

When Sunday is still the most segregated day in America for, not so obvious reasons, it’s hard for Blacks in this country to take white Americans serious when they talk about support for the Ten Commandments and other issues on moral values. As a result, the Ten Commandment cases before the Supreme Court is hypocrisy beyond the pale.

Ten Commandments displays should be allowed on government property because they pay tribute to America's religious and legal history, the US Supreme Court was told last week, in cases that could render a new definition of the role that religion plays in the life of the nation. How can the religious nuts in the South talk about the Ten Commandments in good faith? when just a few years back they would let-out church early so that the members could attend lynchings of Black Americans

"The idea of having a fence around the Ten Commandments to make clear the state has nothing to do with it, I think that is bending it too far," said acting Solicitor General Paul Clement, in arguing against a strict First Amendment wall between church and state.

David Friedman, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who is challenging courthouse displays in Kentucky countered: "An assertion that the Ten Commandments is THE source, THE foundation of our legal system ... that is simply wrapping the Ten Commandments in the flag, and that's endorsement."

In their comments and questions from the bench, justices were reluctant to adopt a blanket ban on such displays. They struggled to formulate a clear constitutional rule that could determine the fate of thousands of religious symbols on public property around the country, including one in their own courtroom featuring Moses holding the sacred tablets.

Justice Antonin Scalia noted that legislative proclamations and prayer invoking God's name are permissible. "I don't see why the one is good and the other is bad," he said.

In the high court's first confrontation with the Ten Commandments issue in a quarter-century, a case from Texas also was being argued.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a lawyer representing a man who seeks its removal, told the justices the display is a "religious symbol." The prominence of the display on the capitol grounds and the fact that so many of the commandments deal with God "does promote religion," he maintained.

Monuments carrying the Ten Commandments are common in town squares, courthouses and other government-owned land around the country. Lawyers challenging these displays argue that they violate the First Amendment ban on any law "respecting an establishment of religion," or simply represent a secular tribute to America's legal heritage.

The question has sparked dozens of heated legal battles, including one in Alabama by Roy Moore. He lost his job as chief justice a year ago after defying a federal order to remove a 5,300-pound Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the state courthouse.

More than 50 groups have filed "friend-of-the-court" briefs weighing in on the issue.

About two dozen demonstrators gathered in front of the Supreme Court in the icy cold for rallies following a candlelight vigil by supporters of the displays.

"I don't think government should be in the business of morality," said David Condo, 40, of Beltsville, Maryland, as protesters wrapped in parkas, scarves and ear muffs marched nearby.

While the cases strictly involve Ten Commandments displays, a broad ruling could define the proper place of religion in public life -- from use of religious music in a school concert to students' recitation of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. A decision is expected by late June.

The Bush administration, which sided with a California school district last year to keep "God" in the Pledge, is now joining Texas and Kentucky officials to back the Ten Commandments displays.

"Countless monuments, medallions, plaques, sculptures, seals, frescoes, and friezes -- including, of course, the Supreme Court's own courtroom frieze -- commemorate the Decalogue. Nothing in the Constitution requires these historic artifacts to be chiseled away or erased," writes Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in his court filing.

Chemerinsky, representing a homeless man suing to have the Texas display removed, countered in his filing: "The government's symbolic endorsement of religion is most obvious from the content of the monument itself. In large letters, the monument proclaims 'I AM the LORD thy God."'

The last time the Supreme Court weighed in on the issue was when it struck down a Kentucky law requiring Ten Commandments displays in public classrooms. Since then, more than two dozen courts have ruled in conflicting ways on displays in various public contexts.

The Supreme Court frieze, for instance, depicts Moses and the tablets as well as 17 other figures including Hammurabi, Confucius, Napoleon and Chief Justice John Marshall. Because it includes secular figures in a way that doesn't endorse religion, the display would be constitutional, Justice John Paul Stevens suggested in a 1989 ruling.

The cases are Van Orden v. Perry, 03-1500, and McCreary County v. ACLU, 03-1693.

Back to home page