June 28, 2005
Christian, pro-family attorneys continue to offer their thoughts on and discuss the ramifications of the split decision handed down on Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court on the displaying of the Ten Commandments.
In separate 5-4 rulings, the high court both affirmed a public Ten Commandment monument on the capitol grounds in Austin, Texas, and ruled unconstitutional framed displays in two county courtrooms in Kentucky. In its first rulings on the issue in a quarter-century, the high court said that displays of the Ten Commandments on government property are not inherently unconstitutional. But each exhibit demands scrutiny to determine whether it amounts to a governmental promotion of religion. In effect, the court said it was taking the position that issues of Ten Commandments displays in courthouses should be resolved on a case-by-case basis.
The chief counsel for Liberty Legal Institute, which represented the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the Texas case, says that decision is a major victory. "If a six-foot-tall, three-feet-wide Ten Commandments monument in front of the State Capitol is okay," says LLI's Kelly Shackelford, "then I think it's pretty clear that religious monuments are safe; and that, in fact, government officials -- if they so desire -- can put one up today."
The Texas monument in question was donated to the state by LLI's client more than 40 years ago. But three years ago, a homeless attorney sued the state, claiming the granite monument amounted to state-endorsed religion. In it decision, the justices said the monument -- which is one of 17 historical displays on the 22-acre lot -- did not violate the Constitution.
According to Shackelford, the narrow victory shows how important it is to have conservatives on the high court. "The idea that the founders would think that there's any problem with displaying the Ten Commandments is a joke. So the fact that we won is wonderful," he remarks. "But we won [on a 5-to-4 vote] -- and people need to realize that. And [they] need to realize that there's a battle ahead, and we've got to be ready to fight."
Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, is concerned, however, that the split ruling will discourage some public entities from displaying any sort of religious symbols. "The court announced no rule of law, which government entities can depend upon that will give them any reasonable certainty they are complying with the requirements of the Establishment Clause [of the First Amendment]," Thompson states.
The Law Center attorney explains the possible fallout. "Consequently, some local governments will decide not to take a chance and be forced to pay monstrous attorney fee awards to organizations like the ACLU if they lose," he says. Thompson suggests a possible solution: remove the statutory attorney fee awards to the prevailing party in such cases. But he doubts that will happen.
"I am certain of one thing," he concludes. "This battle is far from over."
Brad Dacus with the Pacific Justice Institute admits he had hoped the Supreme Court would find display of the Ten Commandments constitutional in both the Texas and Kentucky cases. Still, he says, the rulings provide "some clarity" he believes will benefit many types of religious expression.
"These rulings make it clear that the Ten Commandments can be displayed in virtually any government building, so long as the display has a secular purpose," Dacus states. "In fact, many public schools already display [the Commandments] alongside other important documents such as the Constitution and Declaration of Independence."
But one pro-family legal advisor is not so optimistic. Bernie Reece with the National Clergy Council believes the Kentucky decision is just the latest example of moral decline in America -- and that troubles him.
"This is a frightening thing to look around and see us debating the very law that preserved this nation for over 200 years -- and [to] watch the moral decay that's taking place," the attorney says.
Reece is convinced the high court is hostile to religion. "We are on a road of extracting God from our public life -- and that is such a tragedy," he says. "As a matter of fact, it's an assault on the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed as a matter of law that this nation recognizes God, the Creator, and that His laws, which were based on the Ten Commandments, gave us the inalienable rights which we exercise."
Other pro-family leaders are echoing the sentiment that the Supreme Court appears to be openly hostile toward religions -- and especially Christianity.
Associated Press contributed to this article.
Liberty Legal Institute (http://www.libertylegal.org)
Thomas More Law Center (http://www.thomasmore.org)
Pacific Justice Institute (http://www.pacificjustice.org)
National Clergy Council (http://www.nationalclergycouncil.org)
© 2005 Agape Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.