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Ten Commandments rulings show ‘reasoned’ approach

 


Ten Commandments rulings show ‘reasoned’ approach

June 29, 2005       

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

The 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 Methodist official.

“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 legal history.’”

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 ruling said.

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.

“We 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.

“I 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 God.”

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.

A 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.

“We 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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

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