Ten Commandments Cases: Q & A with Mathew Staver

The United States Supreme Court on Monday issued split decisions on the public display of Ten Commandments monuments on government property, sending what critics called “mixed signals to the American public."

"Today's split ruling sends a mixed message to the American public,” wrote James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, in a press statement. “The court has failed to decide whether it will stand up for religious freedom of expression, or if it will allow liberal special interests to banish God from the public square.

“Those who care deeply about the religious heritage of this country have cause to be concerned by the apparent lack of commitment to the founders' intent shown by our nation's highest court,” he added.

The first case involved Ten Commandments displays in two Kentucky state courthouses. The justices voted 5-4 that the displays, which were ruled unconstitutional in McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, overstepped the boundaries separating church and state.

The second case involved a 6-foot granite monument on the Texas capitol grounds. In the Texas case of Van Orden v. Perry, the High Court upheld a lower court ruling that the monument does not promote a particular religion. The Court, however, issued a fractured plurality decision, and made clear that each Ten Commandments case must be scrutinized case by case.

Mathew D. Staver, president of the Liberty Counsel, defended the Kentucky displays when the case was first brought to the High Court on March 2. The following is excerpts from a brief question-and-answer session with Staver on Monday:

How far reaching are the effects of these cases?

I think they are limited in scale. The Kentucky case was voted 5-4, and the Texas case had a fractured 4-1-4 decision. The decisions are all over the map.

In Kentucky, the justices focused on the history of the display as opposed to the display itself. Essentially, they ruled that the identical displays may be constitutional in one county, but unconstitutional in another county, according to their histories. You will really have to focus on the history and the government officials.

When you look at the Texas case, there was no majority decision. It was voted on 4-1-4, and the swing vote was based on the fact that the monument has been here for 40 years.

In essence, displays that have been around for a long time without any problems will likely be ruled constitutional. Displays that are more recent will likely be scrutinized and found unconstitutional.

Were these favorable rulings?

I think nobody can really say this was positive on either side. Essentially, it kept the status quo and had no clear guideline. We will probably need to come back to the court again to get a clear consistent majority opinion. This court is fractured to the nth degree, and that will not change until the justices change.

What should Christians do now?

What needs to be emphasized is not to get discouraged by one setback. Use this time to get a greater result. You don’t win by just walking off the field. You have to move off and press forward to win. God’s called us to occupy this land whether the result is victory or not. We should realize that this is just the beginning.

I think from a Christian standpoint, we need to realize we did not get to this situation overnight, and we’re not going to reverse it overnight. We need to come back, and realize minor setbacks are not losses.

We will be back to argue another day, and we need to continue to state our case. We went on for decades in silence while the ACLU took the offensive. We need to continue to press forward until we have some sense in the first amendments.