The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case in which an Indiana town's display of the Ten Commandments was found to be unconstitutional.

The decision lets stand an appellate court ruling last December that the granite structure on the lawn of a government building in the town of Elkhart promoted "religious ideals" and should be removed.

In an unusual move, three justices of the high court issued a dissent, saying they wished the case had been heard.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist said that the monument "simply reflects the Ten Commandments' role in the development of our legal system."

But Justice John Paul Stevens, in his own statement, said the first lines on the monument, which include the words "I am the Lord thy God," are so prominent that they are "rather hard to square with the proposition that the monument expresses no particular religious preference."

Four justices must vote affirmatively for a case to be heard.

"The Supreme Court missed an important opportunity to clarify an issue that has become the center of a national debate," said Francis J. Manion, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a law firm founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. The firm represented Elkhart in its appeal.

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The Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case means that the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals' decision, which found the display unconstitutional, stands.

Often, when the Supreme Court decides not to hear a case (called a denial of certiorari), it does so without comment. This time, however, three conservative justices—Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas—publicly disagreed with the decision to pass on the case. Their dissent prompted Justice John Paul Stevens to defend the denial. ...

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