High Court Discusses 10 Commandments

By: Whitney Holmes
By: Whitney Holmes

March 2, 2005

Recently, two different county courthouses in both Texas and Kentucky have been under fire for displaying some form of the Ten Commandments. This separation of church and state issue came to the high court on Wednesday, March 2nd, as two lower courts had differing results. A federal appeals court in Texas ruled in favor of the Ten Commandments being displayed on government property. A federal appeals court in Kentucky did not.

The issue that the Supreme Court justices must decide on is, really, what type of document the Ten Commandments is.

"On one side it is argued that the Ten Commandments is a clearly biblical scriptural statement, a series of essential religious commandments," said UVa Law Professor and legal expert from the Thomas Jefferson Center, Bob O'Neil. "On the other side, it represents a historical document, rather like the Constitution, Bill of Rights or Declaration of Independence."

The state governments argued the Ten Commandments is important to American history, and therefore can be displayed on government property.

But others, such as the ACLU, disagreed.

Kent Willis from the ACLU said in a statement, that "the Ten Commandments is clearly religious because it changes from faith to faith. By displaying it on government property, the government is endorsing a particular faith and saying the rest are secondary."

Some religious leaders actually agree with him. They say calling the Ten Commandments merely historical is an insult.

"The government says we are displaying not for religious influence, but to show the secular influence that the Ten Commandments had on American history," said Pastor Tom Leland from the University First Baptist Church. "But to do that the government is taking a text that is sacred to Jews and Christians and trivializes it by saying that it had no religious significance."

Prior cases have allowed the Ten Commandments on display as part of a larger display of historical documents. This could be the way the high court goes. "It's likeliest the court will split the difference here as they often have in the past in difficult church and state cases," said O'Neil. "They will tend to uphold the display of the Ten Commandments in the context of other historic documents and would probably strike it down when it is sitting there by itself."

The decision is expected late June.

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