Friday, July 8, 2005

Justices leave Americans confused over commandments

What may seem perfectly logical to U.S. Supreme Court justices who prevailed in two cases involving conflicting views of the Ten Commandments is not so clear and logical for most Americans.

Two granite tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments at the Texas state Capitol were ruled constitutionally permissible by the high court, while similar displays in two Kentucky courthouses were deemed to be improper promotions of religion and therefore illegal.

In the Texas case, a court majority ruled that because the Ten Commandments stone was donated by a secular rather than spiritual organization and is surrounded by 38 other historical markers and monuments on Capitol grounds, advocating religion was not its intent.

Whereas, in the Kentucky case, the displays were endorsed as religious symbols from which Kentucky law flowed.

The lighthearted maxim comes to mind -- that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.

What the court has done is to confuse Americans by claiming there's a distinction without much difference.

Justice Stephen Breyer came close to explaining the court's contradictory rulings. Forcing removal of longstanding Ten Commandments markers might well "create the very kind of religiously based divisiveness that the Establishment Clause (the so-called separation of church and state) seeks to avoid."

Put another way: the majority was pragmatic and sensitive to today's touchy political environment.

In a Pew Research Center poll last year, 7 in 10 Americans approved of the Ten Commandments being displayed in public. And why not, many would reason, if the commandments also are prominent in the Supreme Court building.

With the ruling Republican Party and its evangelical Christian supporters imposing religion as a pro forma element in White House policies, Justice Breyer's need to avoid "divisiveness" could be a metaphor for avoiding a public riot.

Yet, the court's willingness to give ground on the question to avoid confrontations with the arm-twisting political power of the evangelical movement only invites future trouble for a future court.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of new Ten Commandment displays will suddenly be demanded in communities under the guise they would represent history not religion.

Thereafter, more lawsuits would follow.

In addition, with U.S. religious communities becoming more diverse, other faiths undoubtedly will ask for comparable opportunities in the public square to promote the "history" of their beliefs.

This isn't the first time justices have ducked. Women and blacks were denied their equality well into the 20th century as the result of early-day justices who had no stomach for bucking the male-dominated society and powerful Deep South politicians whose ancestors were slave owners.

Eventually, however, justices driven by a clear-eyed understanding of what is right, not necessarily convenient, ruled to right a history of wrongs.

 Local Weather 
Search archives:

Copyright © 2024 Express Publishing Inc.   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.