ANN ARBOR, MI. Jan., 27 /Covenant News Wire Service/ — With little over a month before the United States Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on whether public displays of the Ten Commandments are constitutional, the Thomas More Law Center announced today that it has filed a “friend of the court brief” in the case of Van Orden v. Perry supporting the right of Texas to display the historically significant monument.
This is the second of two briefs that the Law Center has filed in the past two months with the Supreme Court defending Ten Commandment displays on public property. The first brief was filed in December in the case of ACLU v. McCreary County. Both cases will be decided by the Supreme Court later in the year.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center commented, “The roots of American law are grounded in the timeless truths contained in the Ten Commandments, and we must not abandon this heritage.”
The Law Center’s brief was filed with the Supreme Court on Thursday in the case of Van Orden v. Perry. Thomas Van Orden, a former criminal defense attorney who became homeless, filed a federal lawsuit against the State of Texas challenging a granite monument on which the Ten Commandments were etched. In his lawsuit, Van Orden argued that the appearance of the Ten Commandments monument on government property violated the First Amendment.
Both the district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against Van Orden, upholding the display of the Ten Commandments as constitutional. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Texas State Capitol Building contains a wide array of monuments, plaques, and seals depicting both the secular and religious history of Texas. They include a tribute to African American legislators, a plaque commemorating the war with Mexico, a statue of a pioneer woman holding a child in tribute to the role of women in Texas history, and a tribute to the Texans lost at Pearl Harbor. The six foot tall Ten Commandments monument was a gift of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, accepted by a joint resolution of the House and Senate in early 1961
The Thomas More Law Center’s brief argued that the attack on Ten Commandments displays is based on the 1980 Supreme Court decision in Stone v. Graham, in which the Supreme Court held that the Ten Commandments could not be posted in public school classrooms. Although Stone is limited to the public school setting, courts have relied on Stone in ruling against the Ten Commandments even when displayed in non-public school settings.
According to Edward L. White III, Trial Counsel of the Law Center, “Stone is a weak precedent that the Supreme Court decided without the benefit of briefing and oral argument. We trust the Supreme Court will re-evaluate Stone and will clarify the proper scope and applicability, if any, of Stone in cases involving the display of the Ten Commandments in non-public school settings.”
On the same day that the Supreme Court hears oral argument in Van Orden, the Court will be hearing argument in the case of ACLU v. McCreary County, another Ten Commandments case. That case involves two displays of the Ten Commandments in the lobbies of Kentucky courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski counties. Both displays originally only included framed copies of the Ten Commandments. After the ACLU sued to remove the displays, the two counties supplemented the framed copies of the Commandments with eleven historical documents, including the Mayflower Compact and the Bill of Rights, calling the new displays the “Foundations of American Law and Government.” The additional documents were chosen because, like the Ten Commandments, they played a significant role in the foundation of our system of law and government.
Despite the additions, a federal trial judge struck down the “Foundations” display because it included the Ten Commandments. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed with the trial judge’s ruling, holding that the original display, which had only included the Ten Commandments, was “blatantly religious” and therefore “unconstitutionally tainted” the subsequent “Foundations” display. The Thomas More Law Center filed its brief in support of the Ten Commandments displays in the McCreary County case last December.
“Both the Van Orden and McCreary County cases will provide the Supreme Court the opportunity once and for all to state that the display of the Ten Commandments, whether alone or as part of a broader display, are constitutional,” continued Thompson. “The high court’s decision in these cases could determine how courts will analyze future disputes over the display of other religious symbols on public property, including nativity scenes and Christian crosses.”
The Law Center has been involved in several cases involving the defense of the Ten Commandments, including two victories earlier this year in defeating separate efforts to remove displays of the Commandments from the cities of Pleasant Grove and Duchesne, Utah.
Oral arguments before the nine justices of the Supreme Court are scheduled for March 2, 2005, with a decision in the case expected in June.
The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through education, litigation, and related activities. It does not charge for its services. The Law Center is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, and is recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c)(3) organization.
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