Commentary: Supreme Court Decision on Ten Commandments is Messy but Necessary

July 10, 2005

Source: First Amendment Center

On July 10, 2005 the First Amendment Center reported, "It only took two cases, 10 opinions and 136 pages. But on June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court finally answered the question about the constitutionality of Ten Commandments displays with the two words neither side wanted to hear: It depends.

Unable to agree on any bright lines, a divided court handed down split decisions upholding some Ten Commandments displays on government property, but not others.

In Van Orden v. Perry, five justices concluded that the overall message of a 40-year-old commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol is secular. So it stays.

But in McCreary County v. ACLU, five justices decided that the commandments display on the wall of the local courthouse was a thinly disguised effort by county officials to promote religion. So it goes... Critics from both sides of the debate criticized the Court for messy, unprincipled decisions that solve little and encourage more lawsuits.

But the critics may be wrong. Yes, the justices spoke with many voices (only Justice Stephen Breyer voted with the majority in both cases). But so do the American people. On some issues 'messy' is not only the best we can hope for in a pluralistic democracy, but it is also sometimes exactly what we need."