Supreme Court Invalidates Kentucky Ten Commandments Display
In yet another 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that the display of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky courts are unconstitutional. The ruling did not invalidate all possible displays of the Ten Commandments on public grounds, just the two displays in question.
Basically, the justices seemed to take in to account the intent of the displays. They ruled that some Ten Commandment displays could be legal if set in the greater secular context of the history of law. One such display in Kentucky did just that, surrounding the Commandments with other legal documents from American history. The problem it seems is that those documents were added only after the ACLU sued. Clearly, the original intent was to just display the Ten Commandments and that, said the court, amounts to government establishment of religion and is thus unconstitutional.
These Ten Commandment cases have bothered me from the get go. I feel we’ve interpreted too-tightly the meaning of “establishment” so that we now forbid so much as a reference to a specific religion in public places. I do not think the Framers intended the First Amendment to bar all recognition of religion in the public square. Nor do I think denying recognition of religion in the public square is some kind of natural evolution of a free society. Religion and democracy can and should coexist quite well. More secular does not always mean more free.
That said, I don’t feel comfortable calling this a bad ruling. For one, it sets absolutely no precedent as it is narrowly focused. In fact, if it does set any precedent, it is to allow the display of the Ten Commandments as long as they are intended to be presented in a secular context. Not a victory for the pro-Commandments forces, but not a total defeat either.
We’ll know more when the ruling on the Texas case comes down. If the Court invalidates the Ten Commandments display on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, I think we have reason to be concerned. If not, then we can focus on the Kentucky ruling and decide whether or not it goes too far in banning religious references.