Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Ten Commandments

In case you hadn't heard, the Supreme Court issued two decisions yesterday on two similar cases involving public displays of the Ten Commandments. They gave what appeared to be mixed messages, ruling one display constitutional and one display unconstitutional, but when you view the two decisions together, what they're really saying is that these things have got to be decided on a case-by-case basis. In other words, the Supreme Court isn't going to get into the business of having a rigid policy specific to the Ten Commandments. I think that's a smart idea.

As I've thought about it, I agree with the decisions, at least constitutionally. I'd prefer for there not to be any Ten Commandments displays on public property, as it fuels the arguments of those who would assert that this is a Christian nation founded on Christian ideals, but the two decisions issued yesterday seem to me to be a nice compromise. The display in Texas was seen as constitutional since it was there with other monuments, placing it in a historical context. As I said, I wouldn't agree on a personal level, but I can see where they're coming from and I'm fine with it.

The display in Kentucky, on the other hand, was viewed as specifically endorsing religion (in fact, the county in question passed a resolution lauding America as a Christian nation while this was all going on, not helping their case). As such, the Kentucky display was ruled unconstitutional.

I don't think that America is, as the religious right has been saying over and over again, a "Christian nation." There's nothing in our Constitution talking about Christianity, and since they're such strict "originalists," as it were, you'd think that would be enough. Freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom to establish your own religion. It means freedom of religion for all men.

My personal take on the Ten Commandments on public display is that they send a message. They send the message (unless, like in the Supreme Court's frieze, they're in the context of thousands of years of examples of laws) that the Judeo-Christian worldview is going to be the preferred one. I think that a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or an atheist would have reasonable cause to think that, if he professed his faith (or lack thereof), the opinions of a court with such a display would automatically be biased against him.

Judges are elected and appointed to uphold the laws of the United States of America. Displays of the Ten Commandments (especially like in the case of Alabama's Roy Moore) assert that there is a law higher than that of the United States. Judges are free to believe that, but to place "higher laws" in the context of their positions as adjudicators of the laws of the United States is directly contrary to what they're in office to do.


LINKS: Dean Stephens sees the split rulings as totalitarian.
Half Sigma thinks this is an invitation for Christian groups to put up Commandments displays willy-nilly, and Julien's List agrees.
The Hedgehog Report is dismayed by Breyer's swing between the two cases.
HoyStory gives us the requisite conservative talking points.