June 29, 2005
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
U.S. Supreme Court sent dual signals in its June 27 rulings on cases
related to the display of the Ten Commandments, but struck a balance on
the issue of government promotion of religion, according to a United
“I think that the high court took a reasoned
and balanced approach that, in effect, allows the courts to address
issues of Ten Commandments displays in courthouses on a case-by-case
basis,” said the Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United
Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. “In
instances where religious displays are permissible, according to the
court, they must be ‘portrayed neutrally in order to honor the nation’s
As the court ended its 2004-2005 term, it handed
down different decisions on cases involving the display of the Ten
Commandments on government property.
By a 5-4 vote, the justices
ruled that a six-foot-high granite monument of the Ten Commandments
could remain on the grounds of the Texas Capitol, where it is one of 17
monuments and 21 historical markers. The monument was donated by the
Fraternal Order of Eagles 40 years ago.
“The public visiting the
capitol grounds is more likely to have considered the religious aspect
of the tablet’s message as part of what is a broader moral and
historical message reflective of a cultural heritage,” the court’s
By another 5-4 vote, the justices ruled that two
framed copies of the Ten Commandments displayed on the walls of a
Kentucky courthouse amounted to a government endorsement of religion,
which was unconstitutional.
Pickens, who also is a lawyer, said the rulings have “very significant implications” for the nation’s interfaith relations.
are a nation of diverse religious heritages. Celebrating and affirming
this heritage is appropriate, in my opinion,” he said. “When the state
acts in a fashion that endorses one religious heritage over another,
however, this poses a significant threat to the Establishment Clause,
which prohibits the state’s endorsement or establishment of a particular
religion over another.”
The challenge, Pickens added, is finding
the right balance. “This will continue to be a significant issue in our
nation, and I hope that it will also become a source of debate and
dialogue within our church.”
The Rev. Ken Johnson, a United
Methodist pastor from Seaman, Ohio, and president of Adams County for
Ten Commandments, said he had mixed feelings about the court ruling.
was happy with the Texas decision because it is my understanding that
there are 4,000 of the same monuments throughout the nation,” he
explained. “But I was somewhat sad with the decision. It seems that they
accuse everybody with establishing a religion just at the mention of
Patricia Miller, executive director of the Confessing
Movement, an unofficial United Methodist-related caucus, said she was
pleased with and “encouraged by” the Texas ruling, although the
Confessing Movement board has not taken a position on the ruling.
statement from the National Council of Churches applauded the Supreme
Court decision “to uphold the separation of church and state and their
ruling that, while it is inappropriate for the Ten Commandments to be
displayed in courthouses, it is completely appropriate for them to be
displayed in state capitols.”
“This decision reflects our belief
that the Ten Commandments have played a significant role in history and
in shaping the laws and policies that govern us today, and therefore
should be allowed to be displayed as a historical document but should
not be displayed in a way that promotes one religion over others.
live in a religiously pluralistic society and, whereas we hope the Ten
Commandments are firmly displayed in the hearts of all Christians, we
believe strongly that we should not impose our religious beliefs on
others,” the NCC statement said.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.