The Supreme Court said yesterday that it will take up the constitutionality of Ten Commandments displays on government land and buildings. This was a surprise to many because the justices have repeatedly refused to revisit issues raised by their 1980 decision that banned the posting of copies of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms. In the meantime, lower courts have reached a hodgepodge of conflicting rulings that allow displays in some instances but not in others.
The high court will hear appeals early next year involving displays in Kentucky and Texas. In the Texas case, the justices will decide if a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds is an unconstitutional attempt to establish state-sponsored religion.
The Ten Commandments should be posted in public buildings, just as a statue of Moses looks down on the Speaker from across the room in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives. Moses is there as the first lawgiver, but there are also the busts of many others who have contributed to the rule of law throughout history.
Perhaps the Court will allow governments to display the Ten Commandments with other documents that have contributed to the judicial and legislative traditions of our nation. A bill that passed overwhelmingly in Indiana said that the commandments could be posted in schools, courthouses or other government property if displayed with other documents of historical significance that have formed and influenced the U.S. legal system. That’s the way to spread knowledge (including a reminder of the most important “Top Ten List”), instead of picking a fight.
There’s no real reason to envision a ruling next year that would turn back the 1980 decision, but it may allow an approach like the one Indiana took.
Certainly the histrionics on the issue have been amusing in recent years, and will most likely continue. We haven’t heard from former Alabama justice Roy Moore lately.