Citation. 545 U.S. 844, 125 S.Ct. 2722, 162 L.Ed.2d 729 (2005).
Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff challenged Defendants’ uses of religious themes in monument displays, arguing they violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Displaying the Ten Commandments in public courthouses violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Defendants posted the Ten Commandments on the walls of their courthouses. After being challenged in court, Defendants created more extensive displays meant to show that the Commandments were Kentucky’s “precedent legal code” which was also challenged. On its third attempt, Defendants included with the Commandments framed copies of the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner, the Mayflower Compact, National Motto, Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, and a picture of Lady Justice. Plaintiffs filed suit and challenged this third attempt, arguing the display still violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Whether Defendants’ display of the Ten Commandments in courthouses violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
.Whether Defendants’ display of the Ten Commandments in courthouses violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
We continue to use phrases like “so help me God,” in God we trust,” etc. With this reality (and much more) staring us in the face, how can the Court possibly assert mandated neutrality? Historical practices demonstrate that there is distance between acknowledgement of a single Creator and the establishment of a religion.
Reasonable minds can disagree here, but the goal is clear: carry out the Founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible. Given the history of the particular display of the Ten Commandments, the Court correctly finds an Establishment Clause violation.
Defendants here are asking us to abandon the purpose element of the Lemon test. We decline. Examination of purpose is a staple of statutory interpretation that makes up the daily fare of every appellate court in the country and governmental purpose is a key element of a good deal of constitutional doctrine.
Here, the original text viewed in its entirety is an unmistakably religious statement dealing with religious obligations and with morality subject to religious sanction. When government intimates an effort to place this statement alone in public view, a religious object is unmistakeable. Moreover, the divisiveness of religion in current public life is inescapable. There is no time to deny the prudence of understanding the Establishment Clause to require the government stay neutral on religious belief. Judgement affirmed.