The ACLU [American Communist Lawyers Union], who can’t seem to understand that Freedom OF Religion is different than Freedom FROM Religion, recently lost a decision in Kentucky involving the public display of the Ten Commandments. The case has been pending for quite some time (it begain in 2001); the recent decision [December 20, 2005] gives me hope that the tide is finally turning.
On October 9, 2001, Carroll Rousey, a Mercer County resident, requested permission to hang a display entitled “Foundations of American Law and Government” in the County Courthouse. The display was to include the Mayflower Compact; the Declaration of Independence; the Ten Commandments1; the Magna Carta (in two frames); the Star-Spangled Banner; the National Motto“In God We Trust” and the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution (one frame); the Bill of Rights; and Lady Justice.
Included in the display is a commentary page that contains an explanation for each of the nine items. The following is the explanation for the Ten Commandments:
The Ten Commandments have profoundly influenced the formation of Western legal thought and the formation of our country. That influence is clearly seen in the Declaration of Independence, which declared that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Ten Commandments provide the moral background of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of our legal tradition.
As the district court noted, “each frame in the display is the same size and no one item is displayed more prominently than the other.” Shortly after Mr. Rousey erected the display, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, along with Bart McQueary, a member of the organization and a resident of Mercer County, brought suit on November 27, 2001 against Mercer County and Charles H. McGinnis, in his official capacity as Mercer County Judge Executive, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. In the suit, the ACLU alleged that, because the display included a version of the Ten Commandments, it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
As part of their opinion, the Court noted that:
Mindful that mere acknowledgment of religion’s role in American history does not offend the Constitution, the court held that Elkhart County’s display of the Ten Commandments did not constitute an endorsement of religion.
But they saved the best part for last:
The ACLU’s argument contains three fundamental flaws. First, the ACLU makes repeated reference to “the separation of church and state.” This extra-constitutional construct has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state. Our Nation’s history is replete with governmental acknowledgment and in some cases, accommodation of religion. After all, “[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” Thus, state recognition of religion that falls short of endorsement is constitutionally permissible.
…[T]he ACLU erroneously–though perhaps intentionally–equates recognition with endorsement. To endorse is necessarily to recognize, but the converse does not follow. Because nothing in the display, its history, or its implementation supports the notion that Mercer County has selectively endorsed the sectarian elements of the first four Commandments, we fail to see why the reasonable person would interpret the presence of the Ten Commandments as part of the larger “Foundations” display as a governmental endorsement of religion.
We will not presume endorsement from the mere display of the Ten Commandments. If the reasonable observer perceived all government references to the Deity as endorsements, then many of our Nation’s cherished traditions would be unconstitutional, including the Declaration of Independence and the national motto. Fortunately, the reasonable person is not a hyper-sensitive plaintiff.
A hyper-sensitive plaintiff. I love it!