WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court again has refused to review a lower-court ruling that a display of the 10 Commandments on government property is unconstitutional.
The high court’s Feb. 25 action allowed to stand an opinion by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that a granite monument including an engraving of the 10 Commandments and proposed for placement on the Indiana State Capitol grounds violated the First Amendment’s restriction against government establishment of religion.
In July, the Supreme Court also declined to review a similar decision by the Seventh Circuit in which the appeals court ruled a 10 Commandments monument on public property in Elkhart, Ind., was unconstitutional. In that case, three justices made the unusual move of issuing a written dissent to the high court’s refusal to accept the case.
The high court’s action will not affect other 10 Commandments cases, according to Liberty Counsel, a religious freedom organization based in Orlando, Fla. Liberty Counsel is defending the display of the 10 Commandments in several cases, including ones in federal courts in Kentucky and in the Sixth Circuit in Ohio.
“The 10 Commandments have played a significant role in shaping American law and government,” Liberty Counsel President Matt Staver said in a written release. “Twelve of the original 13 colonies adopted all 10 of the commandments. To eliminate the 10 Commandments from public displays would require a significant rewriting of American history.”
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a written statement, “Public buildings should display patriotic symbols that bring us together, not religious symbols that divide us. The posting of religious symbols [in public buildings] says some religious groups are better than others.”
A granite monument standing seven feet tall and weighing 11,500 pounds was proposed as a replacement on the capitol grounds in Indianapolis for one that was destroyed by a vandal in 1991. The monument was to include not only the 10 Commandments but the Bill of Rights and the 1851 preamble to the Indiana Constitution. A private company had agreed to build the monument.
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union filed suit against Gov. Frank O’Bannon, a Democrat, and a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction blocking placement of the monument. A Seventh Circuit panel voted 2-1 in July to uphold the injunction.
Indiana “has not articulated a valid secular justification for planning to erect the monument,” the appeals court opinion said. “The permanence, content, design and context of the monument amounts to the endorsement of religion by the state.”
Last summer, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and two associates, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said in a dissent they wanted to accept the appeal of the 10 commandments case from Elkhart, Ind. Four justices must agree in order to review a lower-court opinion.