August 2005 – In the most closely watched cases of its recent term, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that one of two Ten Commandments displays may remain, while the other is unconstitutional.
In the first case, McCreary County, Kentucky v. ACLU, Justice David Souter wrote in a 5-4 decision that the displays in two county courthouses were motivated by a religious purpose, and so were impermissible. In the second case, Van Orden v. Perry, the Court allowed a monument containing the Ten Commandments to remain on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, surrounded by displays of secular documents.
Stephen M. Crampton, chief counsel for the AFA Center for Law and Policy (CLP), said the Court’s ruling in McCreary was disappointing. “The Court’s second-guessing of the hidden purposes of the Kentucky commissioners smacks of judicial tyranny,” Crampton said. “The Court has tightened its grip on every aspect of our lives. These five unelected people in black robes are not declaring law; they are arbitrarily setting social policy for the entire country.”
Crampton added that Americans – and especially government officials – still have virtually no guidance from the Supreme Court when it comes to displays of the Ten Commandments.
“We are obviously pleased with the Court’s upholding of the monument in Texas,” he said. “But the fractured nature of the opinion underscores the utter lack of any clear rule of law in these matters.”
He also contended that the split decision will have a major impact on future court decisions regarding interaction between church and state. “The sad result of what we’re seeing from the Supreme Court today is their consolidated hold on ultimate authority,” Crampton said. “Every display of the Ten Commandments is going to be a question mark until the U.S. Supreme Court precisely announces what the rule is in each particular case.”
Even in its approval of the Texas monument, Crampton said the Supreme Court’s reasoning contained a threat to religious freedom. “It is not in accord with the intention of the framers of the Constitution, and it is not constitutional law for them to tell us how many, in this case, ‘secular documents’ have to go alongside the Ten Commandments in order to make it constitutional,” he said.
AFA Chairman Don Wildmon said the recent Court rulings underscore the need for conservative judges to be appointed to the federal judiciary.
“If we continue to leave our freedoms in the hands of judges who do not respect the intent of the Founding Fathers when they wrote the Constitution, then we will awaken one day without those freedoms,” he said. “We need judges who follow the law, not legislate it from the bench."