Americans United for Separation of Church and State says today's Supreme Court decisions on display of religious symbols by government reaffirms the important principle that the state may not promote religion.
"This is a mixed verdict, but on balance it's a win for separation of religion and government," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "The court rejected calls by Religious Right legal groups to give government an unfettered right to display religious symbols. The justices wisely refused to jettison long-standing church-state safeguards."
Added Lynn, "Public buildings belong to everyone. America is a diverse country and our government should not send the message that some faiths are preferred over others. Public buildings should display the Bill of Rights, not the Ten Commandments."
The high court by 5-4 struck down the display of the Ten Commandments by officials in McCreary County, Ky., noting the religious intent behind the display. But the court, also on a 5-4 vote, upheld a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas state capitol, calling it historical and educational in nature. (The Texas monument is displayed among other monuments.)
The decisions, Lynn said, should end efforts by politicians to post the Commandments in public schools and block new courthouse displays.
"The rulings make it clear that government may not display the Ten Commandments for religious purposes," Lynn said. "Politicians like former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will find it legally impossible to put up divisive Commandments displays in public buildings. That's very important in a country as diverse as ours. Promoting religious codes and symbols is a job for our churches, synagogues, temples and mosques."
Americans United had filed friend-of-the-court briefs in both cases arguing that all the displays amounted to government promotion of religion in violation of the First Amendment principle of church-state separation.
Americans United, which along with allied groups successfully challenged former Chief Justice Moore's display of a 2.5-ton Commandments monument in the Alabama Judicial Building, is currently involved in legal disputes over Commandments displays in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington State.