The United States Supreme Court is about to begin arguments on the constitutionality of the depiction of replicas of the “Ten Commandments” ...


The United States Supreme Court is about to begin arguments on the constitutionality of the depiction of replicas of the “Ten Commandments” tablets in public monuments and buildings across America.

On Wednesday, justices were to debate on the issue that stemmed out as an appeal from a civil case brought forth by two counties in Kentucky. According to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney David Friedman, the putting up of these replicas in public properties is an "an assertion that the Ten Commandments is the source, the foundation of our legal system ... that is simply wrapping the Ten Commandments in the flag, and that's endorsement."

In preliminary discussions held earlier, justices have stopped short of putting up an absolute ban on the whole idea of religious artifacts intermingling with secular activities. Apparently, they must have felt that the issue is too ill timed and pre-mature, where even in their courtroom there appears a replica Moses holding a tablet.

I could see the great predicaments being faced by the justices and the issue is not easy to ingest. Under the United States Constitution, it is prohibited to enact laws that respect the establishment of religion or in aid thereof. Yet, in every day life in America, the entanglement between the religious and the secular happens almost all the time where for example, as a social norm long practiced, prayers are often said before any public activities in that part of the world. In Marsh V. Chambers, the courts upheld the propriety of legislative prayers mainly due to its constant practice and its nature as already a norm of the society.

Last year, the courts sidestep the issue of whether or not the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, with the term “under God” being mentioned there, is in violation of the “establishment clause” of the First Amendments. The decision in the Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow case did not resolved the question mentioned above and merely ordered its dismissal on the ground that the complainant has no custody of his daughter at that time and therefore has no personality to sue on any matters concerning his daughter.

Some landmark cases though could help crystallized the ultimate outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court argument on this issue. A 1971 case (Lemon v. Kurtzman) instituted a three-way test as to the secularity of laws and policies. Then Chief Justice Berger enunciated that in order that a law may not violate the “establishment clause”, it must have a secular purpose, its purpose neither promotes or inhibits religious establishments, and must not lead to entanglements between government and religious institutions.

If this three-way test is the standard to be employed now, these “Ten Commandments” wall exhibits may go unscathed. The frequent defense of those who supports the semi-religious monuments avers the historical significance of those exhibits, on the basis that the “Ten Commandments” is one of the earliest forms of enactments and from which many modern laws were rooted on---this satisfies the secular purpose requirement.

Secondly, the expression symbolized by the said wall exhibits does not in any manner promotes any religious institution since the “Ten Commandments” could not be claimed by any religion or sect, being of a universal character.

And lastly, a hapless wall with a depiction of a socio-religious content could in no manner cause “entanglements” between government and religions unless some wrenched cultists starts to show up in the front yards of every court buildings with an exhibit of “Ten Commandments” on their walls and begin prostrating before these walls for long hours---or even for shorter moments.

Another useful jurisprudential precedence is the Lynch v. Donelly case where the court had dismissed the complaint of certain Daniel Donelly on the ground that the Christmas decoration found in a government property does not in any way promotes any religious institution but merely reflects the celebration of the holiday season. Again, the court decided in favor of the propriety of semi-religious displays by citing its “historical significance”.

In the very case that finally brought the “Ten Commandments” issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, two counties in Kentucky had lumped an image of the “Ten Commandments” together with other public documents in a public area where in that manner, it becomes part of a “historical exhibit” instead of a religious one. The ACLU challenged the discretion of these two counties and the courts there decided against the said counties. And so the appeal of the said case to the highest court for final determination.

Whatever outcome of this particular U.S. Supreme Court arguments may have a great telling on how Americans conduct their official activities. If the courts decide in favor of ACLU, time may have come that America may enter into an era of pure secularism and soon the world may follow. I am a strong advocate of the healthy and conducive separation between the Church and the State but if the society becomes too secular, devoid of any religious activity, moral values may turn into a steep downward spiral and society as a whole may suffer as malevolence rises and moral restraint diminishes.

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