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Van Orden v. Perry

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Texas has a monument outside the capital building that has the Ten Commandments on it.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Displays that have both religious and governmental significance will not be held to violate the Establishment Clause

    Facts.   Outside of the Texas capital building is a site that contains 17 monuments. Each monument represents something in connection with Texas’s history. One of those statutes has the Ten Commandments in its entirety on it. This display is challenge.

    Issue.

    Whether every public display holding religious context must pass the Lemon test in order to not violate the Establishment Clause.

    Held. No. While it is true the separation of church and state are taken seriously by this court, not every display of religion by a Government will be per se invalid. Here we have 17 monuments all meant to show the history of a state. This one monument with the Ten Commandments is a passive display that does not warrant automatic invalidation under the Establishment Clause. This court instead analyzes the nature of the monument and the Nation’s history and finds that a monument with the dual nature of historical reference and religious content is not unconstitutional. The court compares the factual circumstances of this case to another in Kentucky. The Government had a statute that required all classrooms to have the Ten Commandments posted. That circumstance clearly is more obvious as it will be shown to elementary school kids everyday. It is not the same as a historical display outside of the Texas Capital Building. The court states that our Nation’s heritage does have religious implication, thus every historical landmark can not be said to be reinforcing a particular religious rather than showing a history of this County.

    Dissent. This monument is not a work of art, nor does it have a link to any specific historical date or person in Texas’s history. No reasonable observer would look at the monument and think it is there to honor the history of Texas. Instead it shows the state endorses such religious ideologies.

    Concurrence.  N/A

    Discussion.

    The court also mentions that even in the Supreme Court house there are historical paintings that have religious context, specifically a picture of Moses. However this court states that Moses was a lawmaker and an onlooker can see this and see the purpose of the picture without thinking the Supreme Court of the United States endorses one particular religion.


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