February 24, 2005

A Monumental Decision: High Court Considers Constitutionality of Ten Commandments Displays on Public Property

A Monumental Decision: Supreme Court Considers Constitutionality of Ten Commandments Displays on Public Property

On March 2, 2005, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Van Orden v. Perry (No. 03-1500) and McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky (No. 03-1693). The two cases involve challenges to several government-sponsored displays of the Ten Commandments. Those who are bringing the challenges contend that these displays amount to governmental endorsement of the Ten Commandments’ religious message, and that such an endorsement violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Those who defend the displays argue that they reflect the government’s constitutionally legitimate acknowledgment of the Ten Commandments’ significant role in the development of American law and government.

Van Orden and McCreary County offer the Supreme Court the opportunity to clarify its approach to a controversial question: Under what circumstances may the government sponsor the display of religious messages or objects? The Court’s resolution of these cases will strongly influence future decisions on the constitutionality of government-sponsored holiday exhibits, the presence of religious expressions in official seals and mottoes, and the use of religious language in otherwise civic ceremonies such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.