WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said yesterday it will
consider whether the Ten Commandments may be displayed on
government property, ending a 25-year silence on a church-state
issue that has prompted bitter legal fights around the country.
Ten Commandments displays are common in town squares and
courthouses and on other government-owned land, including the
Supreme Court. A wall carving of Moses holding the tablets is in
the courtroom where justices will hear arguments in the case.
Courts around the country have splintered over whether the
exhibits violate the constitutional principle of separation of
church and state.
The disputes have led to emotional battles, such as one in
Alabama by Chief Justice Roy Moore, who lost his job after defying
a federal order to remove a 5,300-pound monument from the state
courthouse. The Supreme Court refused last week to help him get his
But the justices agreed to address the constitutionality of
displays in Kentucky and Texas. The case probably will be argued in
February with a decision before July.
Supporters of the monuments celebrated the news. “The Lord
answers prayers,” said former Judge-Executive Jimmie Greene
of McCreary County, Ky., which was ordered to remove a display in
the hallway of the county courthouse. Greene refused to do the task
“I am a law-abiding citizen, but there is a higher
power,” Greene said. “I just could not remove that
sacred document. Could you think of a better reason to go to jail
than standing up in defense of the Ten Commandments?”
The Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church
and State said the court should block all government displays of
“It’s clear that the Ten Commandments is a religious
document. Its display is appropriate in houses of worship but not
at the seat of government,” Lynn said.
The court last dealt with the issue in 1980, when justices
banned posting the Ten Commandments in public schools. That case
also was from Kentucky.
Mathew Staver of the conservative law group Liberty Counsel,
attorney for Kentucky counties in the current case, said the
Supreme Court has expected for a long time that a blockbuster
religious liberty case would come along. “It’s finally
here,” Staver said.
Officials in two Kentucky counties — McCreary and Pulaski
— hung framed copies of the Ten Commandments in their
courthouses and added other documents, such as the Magna Carta and
the Declaration of Independence, after the American Civil Liberties
Union challenged the display. The ACLU won and county officials are
appealing the decision.
David Friedman, general counsel for the Kentucky ACLU, said
people of different faiths follow different versions of the
“Especially in a courthouse, people should not be made to
feel like outsiders in their own community because they may not
share the prevailing religious view,” he said.