The easy way

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 2, 2005

Did they take the easy way out?

That was the question I asked myself following two decisions by the Supreme Court this week. The high court ruled on two cases concerning The Ten Commandments being displayed on government property.

One case from Kentucky concerned framed copies of The Ten Commandments being displayed on the wall in two different courthouses. The Supreme Court ruled five to four that this type of display was unconstitutional because they were put up with the &uot;unconstitutional purpose of favoring monotheistic religion.&uot;

Supreme Court Justice David Souter wrote for the majority in this case. &uot;With the ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion, it violates that central Establishment Clause value of official religious neutrality,&uot; wrote Souter.

After reading Souter’s words several times I felt I needed to consult an attorney just to help me understand his opinion.

However, that was only the beginning.

In the Texas case, The Ten Commandments were displayed along side 37 non-religious markers and monuments.

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled five to four that this Ten Commandment monument, erected in 1961, was not unconstitutional because it was &uot;less blatantly religious and had an educational meaning as part of the other markers and monuments on the grounds.&uot;

Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the majority in this case. &uot;Of course, the Ten Commandments are religious — they were so viewed at their inception and so remain. The monument, therefore, has religious significance…. But Moses was a lawgiver as well as a religious leader. And the Ten Commandments have an undeniable historical meaning. … Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause,&uot; wrote Rehnquist.

Oh that tricky Establishment Clause.

I have a pretty good idea about the concept of the separation of church and state, but I felt the need to consult the Constitution to make sure I knew what the Chief Justice actually meant by the phrase &uot;Establishment Clause&uot;.

These are the exact words of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

&uot;Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.&uot;

More tricky legal speak.

So after two cases that appeared quite similar, the court left us, the American people, with two different rulings. What are we to make of this?

I agree with some of what Rehnquist wrote. No one can deny that The Ten Commandments and the religions that follow these laws and beliefs have played and continue to play major roles in American culture.

At first glance, the decision to allow a religious monument to be displayed on government property may not seem incredibly important. One way or another, how much would these types of monuments and displays affect our day to day lives?

However, there are vital reasons that the framers of the constitution added the First Amendment to the Constitution.

There are countless examples throughout human history where a government favored one religion over another. While some of these governments may have allowed the free practice of other religions, many of these governments led to brutal oppression and war.

Present day Sudan and visions of the Spanish Inquisition come to mind.

The framers of the Constitution knew the idea of mixing religion with government was dangerous. The importance they placed on this separation is evident by their decision to make it the First Amendment to the Constitution.