Court Strikes Down Ten Commandments Displays in Courthouses

The Supreme Court on Monday narrowly struck down Ten Commandments displays in courthouses, ruling that two exhibits in Kentucky unconstitutionally promoted a religious message.

In their 5-4 decision, the justices declined to prohibit all such displays in court buildings or on government property, and applied the ruling to only the specific display in two Kentucky courthouses.

They also wrote that some displays, like the dozens of depictions in their own courtroom, are permissible if they are portrayed neutrally in order to honor the nation’s legal history, according to Associated Press.

"The touchstone for our analysis is the principle that the First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion," Justice David H. Souter wrote for the majority.

"When the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion, it violates that central Establishment clause value of official religious neutrality," he said.

The decision upheld a lower court’s decision in McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, which ruled against the framed displays in two Kentucky state courthouses.

The case is one of two on the Ten Commandments that were heard by the Supreme Court in March. The second case, which involves a six-foot granite monument on the grounds outside the state capitol, will likely be resolved today.

In a dissenting voice in the Kentucky case, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that Ten Commandments displays are a legitimate tribute and part of the nation’s legal history.

According to AP, Scalia said the framed monuments may have had a religious purpose when they were originally posted by itself in 1999. But their efforts to dilute the specific message since then by hanging other historical documents in the courthouses made the Ten Commandments display legitimate.

"In the court's view , the impermissible motive was apparent from the initial displays of the Ten Commandments all by themselves: When that occurs: the Court says, a religious object is unmistakable," he wrote. "Surely that cannot be."

Chief William H. Rehnquist and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas sided with Scalia.

Meanwhile, Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, who argued for the displays in the McCreary County case in March, said the “battle is far from over.”

“Today’s decision is historic and will have a significant impact on the future court decisions regarding the interaction between church and state,” Staver wrote in a statement. “That the Ten Commandments would be deemed unconstitutional is an insult to the Constitution, to our shared religious history and to our Veterans from whose blood liberty was birthed.

“Our Constitution need not be amended to remedy today’s decision. Our Constitution is sound. We need to judges who understand the rule of law and who respect the Constitution.”