Thou Shalt Display…

… the 10 Commandments in the Courthouse.

Federal District Judge, Karl Forester of the Eastern District of Kentucky, has ruled that “a display of the Ten Commandments at an eastern Kentucky courthouse does not violate the Constitution, but a lawsuit challenging a similar display in another county can proceed.” (Read the Associated Press Story Here).

The ruling comes down as one of four filed by the ACLU which is the Organization’s the second set of challenges to Ten Commandments postings in county government buildings (four courthouses and one public hospital). On behalf of ACLU of Kentucky members and local citizens, the ACLU argued that the postings violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause. The context of the individual postings initially ranged from stand-alone to “historical documents” displays like those enjoined in the first set of cases. After the ACLU filed suit, each government modified its display to contain the same set of “historical documents.” (SOURCE). In each lawsuit, the ACLU is attempting to prove that the county’s real motive for the display is religious, not historical. (SOURCE)

Although I’m still trying to get a copy of the Kentucky opinion, it seems that The basis of this opinion rides on the U.S. Supreme Court case from 2005, McCreary County, Ky. v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky. 545 U.S. 844, 125 S.Ct. 2722 (2005), that that Ten Commandments displays on government property must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Among factors making the displays constitutional, the court said, is if their main purpose was to honor the nation’s legal, rather than religious, traditions. (Read the Opinion HERE).

The crux of this controversy is whether the display of the Commandments is for a legal purpose rather than a religious one. I can see the arguments on both sides. The basis, the core value of the Commandments, is religious and not legal even though it is the “Law” of religion. It was given to Moses by God. But can you take it a step further and say the Commandments, although religious in history, really developed the basis for our laws today? For example, “Thou shalt not kill,” could easily be argued formed the basis of the laws governing murder and violence, obviously a pure historical and legal basis. But one cannot escape the fact that the Commandments are one of the most religiously encompassed items throughout history. Well, just as the interpretation of most laws, there is a lot a gray and it is easy to manipulate the law to suit one’s interests.

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4 responses to “Thou Shalt Display…

  • Linda Ruth

    Context is everything. Apparently. Put the ten commandments next to copies of the magna carta, the declaration of independence and no longer are they a religious endorsement but merely another historical document. So, the motivations behind the display are the judging point?

    It is murky water to navigate when proving motivations, even when one is pretty certain what’s under the surface. Setting the commandments next to unambiguously historical documents to make it not look religious is like setting Muhammed Ali next to Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler to make him not look like a racist.

  • tinkytoes

    Why don’t people just chill out?

  • rachel

    I can see the argument either way, but the ten commandments are an extremely important religious document to the Jewish religion. Yes, it is history and it is the law, but it is also very sacred. The court house isn’t posting blurbs from the Bible or pictures of Jesus on the cross in the Courtroom. I think that religious materials whether they have any legal significance or not can offend even the most reform person. It may not violate the constitutional right on freedom of speech, but I think that the courtroom need to show respect to all people of all religions, races, ethnicities, and by posting the ten commandments or any religious memorabilia, I believe it sends the wrong message.

  • Bernie

    The ten commandments are more of a religious thing than a law thing. It can be used as a guide for our everyday living. But, who really obeys or even understands what exactly is in the ten commandments? “Thou shalt not have any other gods” or “Thou shalt not make any graven image” stands out as being more religious than cold hard law that we can apply to our modern day. How about coveting? How about lying? I seriously doubt that person who sees the ten commandments will leave the court room as a changed person.

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