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.

The ACLJ expressed its disappointment, and has posted a petition urging national leaders to support Ten Commandment public display.

The Associated Press said the decision doesn't mean the marker will be coming down soon.

The Elkhart mayor vows to keep the monument, The National Post reports.

The Detroit News reports the monument was given to the city in part as promotion for the movie The Ten Commandments.

A proposal in Michigan could allow the Ten Commandments in public schools, The Detroit News reports.

In 1997, CT's sister publication Christian Reader published an interview with Judge Roy Moore entitled Are the Ten Commandments Unconstitutional?

Christianity Today's previous coverage of Ten Commandment controversies includes:

Hang Ten? | Thou shalt avoid Ten Commandments tokenism. (Mar. 3, 2000)

Ten Commandments Judge Cleared | Roy Moore's integrity confirmed regarding legal fund. (Oct. 25, 1999)

House Upholds Display of Ten Commandments | Spurred by recent fatal shootings in public schools, the House of Representatives voted to permit the display of the Ten Commandments. (April 9, 1999)

Ten Commandments Judge Looking for Federal Fight | Does courtroom display defy separation of church and state? (Dec. 12, 1997)

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