This morning's breaking news e-mail from CNN illustrates the confusion surrounding the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property. "Following ruling barring Ten Commandments displays in courthouses, Supreme Court rules such displays are allowed at state capitols." The mistake is being repeated elsewhere, too. One would think that the Court took up the two cases—one from Texas, the other from Kentucky—in order to provide some clarity. If CNN and a host of other media outlets are any indication, the Court did anything but.

A lower court rejected that display, and the county tried again. "The new posting, entitled "The Foundations of American Law and Government Display," consists of nine framed documents of equal size. One sets out the Commandments explicitly identified as the "King James Version," quotes them at greater length, and explains that they have profoundly influenced the formation of Western legal thought and this nation."

But the lower court held, and the Supreme Court upheld, that the monument was religious rather than secular. "The counties' asserted educational goals crumbled upon an examination of this litigation's history. Affirming, the Sixth Circuit stressed that, under Stone [v. Graham], displaying the Commandments bespeaks a religious object unless they are integrated with a secular message. The Court saw no integration here because of a lack of a demonstrated analytical or historical connection between the Commandments and the other documents."

It's okay, when no one objects for a long time
On the other hand, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling which allowed a 6-foot Commandments monument to stay on the Texas state capitol grounds. The Fraternal Order of Eagles gave the monument to the state, which decided to place it on the capitol grounds alongside 21 historical markers and 17 monuments.

"From at least 1789, there has been an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of religion's role in American life," the court ruled. "Texas' display of the Commandments on government property is typical of such acknowledgments."

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a concurring opinion, "Despite the Commandments' religious message, an inquiry into the context in which the text of the Commandments is used demonstrates that the Commandments also convey a secular moral message about proper standards of social conduct and a message about the historic relation between those standards and the law. … The determinative factor here, however, is that 40 years passed in which the monument's presence, legally speaking, went unchallenged."

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Say what?
So, it seems the Court is saying nothing about whether a Ten Commandments monument is set up in a courthouse or capitol grounds. Rather, it sounds like the Court is saying Ten Commandments monuments are okay if no one interprets the government's motivation as being religious, and if the monument has been around for a long time without people objecting.

Granted, the Kentucky counties handled the legal challenge badly. If their intent was to educate citizens as to "Kentucky's precedent legal code," adding other, smaller religious references was not likely to achieve that goal. Still, after the counties decided to amend the displays again to include nine displays of equal size, only one of which included anything religious, is it fair to conclude the display is religious simply because the governments that erected it may have had non-secular motives? The "litigation's history" is enough to determine that to a casual observer the display would appear to be promoting religion? Simply because, 40 years ago, no one challenged the Texas monument, and we therefore have no record of the state's motives, that monument is constitutional?

Predictably, conservative political groups applauded the Texas ruling, decried the Kentucky one, and expressed befuddlement over the discrepancy. "This ruling by the Supreme Court is not only denigrating to our culture but it undermines the very laws we already have in place. Forbidding the Ten Commandments opens the door to hostility toward religion, which is contrary to the free exercise clause of the First Amendment," said Family Research Council's Tony Perkins in response to the Kentucky ruling.

Responding to the Texas ruling, he said, "There is no other decision that would make sense given our Constitutional history. Of course, we do not agree with the Court's decision on the Kentucky case but we welcome the court's decision to uphold the right to display the Ten Commandments on public property in Texas … The decisions today solve nothing. Current Ten Commandment display cases, such as the one in Maryland, will now proceed as this Court picks and chooses which displays offend them and which they deem worthy." James Dobson also lamented the "mixed message" the court sent.

"How the majority tries to reconcile these two rulings and the ruling in the Kentucky courthouse case with its prior rulings upholding religious displays on public property is no doubt a stretch beyond reason," said Jan LaRue, Concerned Women for America's chief counsel. "Posting [the Ten Commandments] on public property as part of a historical display is a legitimate secular purpose. The Commandments are an important part of our laws and history."

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Interestingly, both groups argue for the display of the Ten Commandments for historical reasons. And by that argument, the Texas ruling makes sense. In the context of 21 historical markers and 17 monuments, the monument means little. The Kentucky courthouses on the other hand, by their silly behavior when they tried to make the display historical by adding other religious references, demonstrated their religious motivations.

So, why do conservative groups continue to argue that the Ten Commandments should be displayed for solely historical reasons, then lament when the court interprets accordingly? As CT editorialized regarding "under God" the Pledge of Allegiance, more important than maintaining the phrase is the reason for it: "recognizing that our nation is 'under God' makes our patriotism possible."

Scalia lays out the framework
In Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent, conservative groups have a pretty decent argument laid out for them, which shows that the historical argument is unneeded.

In Scalia's dissent to the Kentucky ruling, he first lays out the myriad ways in which the Establishment Clause is not interpreted to mean that government cannot favor religion. The founders, he illustrates, did not interpret it that way, and in many cases today, it is not so interpreted. "Presidents continue to conclude the presidential oath with the words 'so help me God.' Our legislatures, state and national, continue to open their sessions with prayer led by official chaplains. The sessions of this Court continue to open with the prayer 'God save the United States and this Honorable Court.'"

Scalia continues, "With all of this reality (and much more) staring it in the face, how can the Court possibly assert that 'the First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between … religion and nonreligion,' and that '[m]anifesting a purpose to favor … adherence to religion generally,' is unconstitutional? Who says so? Surely not the words of the Constitution. "

The justices are just making stuff up, says Scalia. "Nothing stands behind the Court's assertion that governmental affirmation of the society's belief in God is unconstitutional except the Court's own say-so, citing as support only the unsubstantiated say-so of earlier Courts going back no farther than the mid-20th century."

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The Court's determination that government cannot favor religion, while allowing churches to be tax exempt and allowing opening prayer in a state legislature, discredits the court's opinion, Scalia says. "What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle."

The Court has not been consistent, Scalia wrote, only because "the Court … cannot go too far down the road of an enforced neutrality that contradicts both historical fact and current practice without losing all that sustains it: the willingness of the people to accept its interpretation of the Constitution as definitive, in preference to the contrary interpretation of the democratically elected branches."

Recent polls suggest evangelicals' opinion of the Court has dropped dramatically over the last few years. Scalia seems to know why.

More Articles:

Ten Commandments:

  • Ten Commandments display allowed by U.S. high court | Governments can post the Ten Commandments on public property as part of a broader display of historical symbols, as long as officials aren't aiming to promote religion, the U.S. Supreme Court said. (Bloomberg)
  • ACLU: High court ruling likely means Plattsmouth monument must go | A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Ten Commandments displays at two Kentucky courthouses cross the line between separation of church and state likely means a similar Nebraska display is unconstitutional, a legal expert and opponent of the monument said Monday. (Associated Press)
  • Supreme Court splits on Ten Commandments | n a major showdown over the presentation of religious symbols and sacred text on public property, the US Supreme Court has made it somewhat easier for government officials to justify displays like the Ten Commandments. (The Christian Science Monitor)
  • Commandment displays allowed on some government property | The Supreme Court ruled today that displaying the Ten Commandments on government property does not necessarily violate the constitutional principle that there must be a separation between church and state. (The New York Times)
  • Justices disallow Ten Commandments in courthouses | In separate decision, court upholds displays on government land (Washington Post)
  • Court: Some Ten Commandments displays OK | A sharply divided Supreme Court on Monday upheld the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments on government land, but drew the line on certain renderings inside courthouses, saying they violate the doctrine of separation of church and state. (Associated Press)
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Billy Graham in NYC:

  • Billy Graham takes on a tough city | How does a sick, old evangelist from Charlotte win the soul of a city like New York? With the trademark planning, promotion and prayer that has marked a lifetime of Billy Graham crusades. And with a Christian message aimed at slowing down New Yorkers long enough to find some answers to their questions. (Knight Ridder Newspapers)
  • Frail preacher charms New York crowd | In the sweltering heat of a New York summer's evening, the faithful queued patiently at Corona Park, waiting to hear the legendary evangelical preacher Billy Graham. (BBC)
  • A man of peace prepares to meet his God | As Islanders open what may be his final service, Rev. Billy Graham talks of death, repentance. (Staten Island Advance)
  • Last day of Billy Graham crusade | Today is the third and last day of the Greater New York Billy Graham Crusade. 75,000 people are expected at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens this afternoon despite the 90 ninety degree plus temperatures. (WNYC)
  • From Billy Graham, a big-tent revival | The half-mile walk from the subway to the grounds of Billy Graham's crusade in Queens starts near Shea Stadium, winds past that famous World's Fair globe in the middle of Corona Park and ends at a bustling stage. Along the way, you hear a whole lot of hate. "Billy Graham is just one of many false teachers," says Darwin Fish, who swears that his real name is Darwin Fish and who flew in from Los Angeles, where he is a member of something called A True Church. (Washington Post)
  • Once more, with feeling | Rev. Billy Graham delivers what might be his final sermon at a crusade, but he won't rule out more events (Newsday, N.Y.)
  • Clintons Join Crusaders in N.Y. | Former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) took seats onstage during a surprise appearance Saturday night at the second installment of the Rev. Billy Graham's three-day crusade in New York, which the 86-year-old evangelist has suggested could be his last. (Washington Post)
  • For Graham, final altar call nears | Evangelist begins crusade at age 86 (Boston Globe)
  • Billy Graham has nice-looking posters | Billy Graham is back in New York City, for one last crusade. Cue the nostalgia; cue the clouds of forgetting. The press has been beyond adulatory, with only a nod toward's Graham's anti-Semitic past from the NYT's Laurie Goodstein and the predictable snark from the little papers. (Jeff Sharlet)
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  • A voice in a crowded wilderness | With its roots in small-town tent revivals, evangelism is a genuine American performance art. It is only fitting then that the Rev. Billy Graham, the master of the form, should begin his last crusade in New York City, where all the best performers are showcased. Evangelists, of course, aim to save souls, not to entertain. But it in no way demeans Mr. Graham or his spiritual intentions to view his Greater New York Crusade as ritual with himself as star performer. (Kenneth L. Woodward, The New York Times)
  • At crusade, spirit meets science in the altar call | It is, to many minds, the cornerstone of the Christian religious experience. For millions of people, it is a defining moment in their lives. It is the altar call, the moment at the end of an evangelical Protestant church service - or a revival, or a stadium-size rally - when the minister urges audience members to step forward, make a public decision to accept Jesus Christ as their savior and be born anew. (The New York Times)
  • Graham ends crusade in city urging repentance and hope | The Rev. Billy Graham, global ambassador for Christ and the most prominent American evangelist of the past century, concluded what might be his final American crusade yesterday with a sermon both apocalyptic and hopeful before a joyously polyglot throng in a New York City park. (The New York Times)

Billy's last?

  • Billy Graham leaves New York with a question: Was this really the last time? | With all the talk about whether this weekend would be the Rev. Billy Graham's final American revival, the 86-year-old evangelist spoke strongly and clearly in the scorching summer heat Sunday, (Associated Press)
  • Good and faithful servant | In his last ever "crusade", in New York on Saturday night, Billy Graham was the first to admit that he is a sinner. He certainly blotted his copybook during his chats with Richard Nixon, damning the Jewish "stranglehold" in America. Despite repeated apologies and laudatory references to Israel, the blemish has never quite washed away. (Telegraph, UK)
  • Graham caps a life of faith | he Rev. Dr. Billy Graham is on what may be his last American crusade. Tens of thousands of people heard the 86-year-old deliver his message of faith in New York City this weekend. (WTOK, Miss.)
  • Graham winds down six decades of revivals | The old crusader returned to the scene of his greatest triumph as an echo of his younger self. Instead of bounding to the pulpit, he shuffled forward with a walker. His voice, once a mighty trumpet of faith, was soft and thin. (USA Today)
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  • Billy Graham winds up NYC revival meeting | The Rev. Billy Graham concluded a three-day revival meeting by raising spirits and leaving open a question that was on the mind of most who attended: Will this be the last time the celebrated evangelist preaches a mass meeting? (Associated Press)
  • Graham addresses 'final' rally | Tens of thousands of people have listened to what was expected to be the last sermon in the 60-year career of American evangelist Billy Graham. (BBC)
  • Billy Graham winds up revival meeting | The Rev. Billy Graham concluded a three-day revival meeting by raising spirits and leaving open a question that was on the mind of most who attended: Will this be the last time the celebrated evangelist preaches a mass meeting? (Associated Press)
  • Tears mixed with joy end crusade | Some of the 230,000 people who attended the three-day rally in New York came to see the Rev. Billy Graham for the first time, but many others came to say goodbye. (Baltimore Sun)
  • Billy Graham's last U.S. crusade | Legendary evangelist anticipates heaven, sees hope for humanity (MSNBC)
  • 'I never say 'never,' ' confesses Billy Graham | New York- Marking a milestone moment for American religion and world evangelicalism, the Rev. Billy Graham Sunday preached what could be his last revival sermon. (Associated Press)
  • Graham's farewell? Maybe not | Evangelist ends three-day crusade in New York with: `We have to come back again some day' (Chicago Tribune)
  • Sermon could be Graham's final crusade | Revival meeting wraps up in N.Y. (Associated Press)
  • A fitting way to bid farewell | His Queens crusade may have been the last for Billy Graham, but it was far from being a sad occasion (Raymond J. Keating, Newsday, N.Y.)

Billy's ministry:

  • A simple message with an invitation to the faithful to be born again | The Rev. Billy Graham opened his three-night crusade at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens last night with a brief sermon stripped down to its barest essentials: God, Jesus Christ and the promise of new life they offer to one and all. (The New York Times)
  • A family of crusaders | Two Broward County preachers, grandsons of the Rev. Billy Graham, are in New York for his 417th and final crusade (Miami Herald)
  • Graham's appeal to a new generation | With jumbo screens and pop lyrics, the premier evangelist still resonates with today's youth. (The Christian Science Monitor)
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  • Crusade crosses cultural divide | The symbol of Graham's eighth crusade in New York is, in fact, the Unisphere that dominates the Queens park - an emblem both of the global village that New York has become and also of the spiritual unity that the organization has sought to create from 81 different denominations and dozens of ethnic groups that have co-sponsored the event. (Newsday, N.Y.)
  • Billy Graham, a hard act to follow | When the Rev. Billy Graham, 86 and slightly stooped, shuffled into the Rainbow Room on the 64th floor of Rockefeller Center last week to address a roomful of reporters, he confirmed what he and his associates have been saying for months: a three-day crusade in New York City is likely his last. (The New York Times)

Air Force Academy:

  • Whose God is their co-pilot? | The U.S. Air Force Academy faces charges that it has allowed rampant evangelization on campus (Time)
  • Air Force chaplain submits resignation | An Air Force Academy chaplain who accused superiors of improperly promoting evangelical Christianity among cadets submitted her resignation from the military on Tuesday, one day before an official task force was to report on the religious climate at the campus, in Colorado Springs (The New York Times)
  • AFA probe finds religious bias, ADL leader says | A Pentagon investigation into the religious climate at the Air Force Academy found instances of religious intolerance, a religious leader briefed on the report said Tuesday (The Denver Post)
  • Report: AFA not tolerant of faiths | Pentagon must help find solution, cadet's dad says (The Rocky Mountain News, Denver)
  • Air Force Academy staff found promoting religion | Officers and faculty members periodically used their positions to promote their Christian beliefs and failed to accommodate the religious needs of non-Christian cadets, its leader said Wednesday (The New York Times)
  • Religious insensitivity cited at academy | Air Force investigators merely scratched the surface in their report about alleged religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy, two lawmakers said in calling for stricter congressional oversight of the military school (Associated Press)
  • Report faults U.S. Air Force Academy on religion (Reuters)
  • Panel chastises Air Force Academy | The Air Force Academy failed to draw a clear line against religious intolerance within its ranks, a military task force reported Wednesday. The panel said instances of insensitivity among some born-again Christian staff and cadets reflect a lack of awareness and ignorance, not overt discrimination (USA Today)
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  • Air Force says no widespread religious bias at academy | Task force found "perceptions" of religious discrimination against minorities at the college as well as cases of "inappropriate" religious expression (Chicago Tribune)
  • School's religious intolerance misguided, Pentagon reports | An investigation finds non-Christians were not accommodated at the Air Force Academy, but the situation is blamed on a lack of guidelines (Los Angeles Times)
  • Academy to get new religion guidelines | The Air Force Academy and the entire Air Force will get new marching orders for how to handle religious issues in an effort to reverse intolerant attitudes (The Gazette, Colorado Springs)
  • Statement from AFA football coach Fisher DeBerry (The Gazette, Colorado Springs)
  • Statement by Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, AFA commandant (The Gazette, Colorado Springs)
  • Report denies bias at AFA | "Insensitivity" on religion still cited (The Denver Post)
  • Probe absolves general at AFA | Allegedly pushed Christianity (The Denver Post)
  • Report finds no religious bias at AFA | Panel points to lack of accommodation for non-Christians (The Rocky Mountain News, Denver)
  • Intolerance at the academy | The best officials could muster was an ineffectual statement that does little justice to the gravity of the issue and stands in stark contrast to independent investigations that uncovered worrisome problems at the academy (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
  • US officer school told to improve | A US air force inquiry into religious bullying at an elite officer school in Colorado has called for cadets to be allowed equal religious rights (BBC)
  • Air Force Academy chided for religious tone | A Pentagon task force investigating possible religious intolerance at the U.S. Air Force Academy reports shortcomings, but no intentional discrimination based on religion. Cadets have complained of pressure to attend chapel and join prayer groups (All Things Considered, NPR)
  • Skepticism over AFA report | Yale Divinity School team found evidence of religious bias (The Rocky Mountain News, Denver)


  • What's permissible to ACLU? | It's certainly reasonable for the AFA to foster a more tolerant institution. But it is reprehensible for cadets to be saddled with the concept of "impermissible expression of beliefs" (David Harsanyi, The Denver Post)
  • Obfuscating intolerance | A Pentagon inquiry's finding of no overt religious discrimination at the Air Force Academy strains credibility, considering the academy superintendent has already acknowledged it will take years to undo the damage from evangelical zealots on campus (Editorial, The New York Times)
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  • AFA report: critical but fair | Clearer guidelines needed (Editorial, The Rocky Mountain News, Denver)
  • 'Heathens' need not apply | Despite report's findings, religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy will take long time to eliminate, says Superintendent, Lt. Gen. John Rosa Jr. (Bill Berkowitz, WorkingForChange)
  • Coercing faith | The Air Force panel that investigated complaints of religious coercion and favoritism at the Air Force Academy in Colorado has muddied the water at best and perhaps made it more difficult to restore the service's tradition of tolerance (Editorial, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.)
  • Standing up to religious oppression | The academy's brass are not in trouble because they allowed evangelical Christian cadets to speak of their faith to other cadets. That is their right. The issue is whether officers higher in the chain of command used their positions of authority to promote their faith (Editorial, Concord Monitor, N.H.)
  • God and the wild blue yonder | Air Force instructors shouldn't be deciding which group is right, and neither should Hostettler (Ray Watters, Rocky Mount Telegram, N.C.)
  • Academy needs lesson in tolerance | There is nothing remotely "well-intentioned" about faculty members at one of the nation's military academies trying to force their religion on others or tolerating religious discrimination (Editorial, USA Today)
  • Beyond Team Jesus | Report targets intolerance at Air Force Academy (Editorial, Daily Camera, Boulder, Co.)
  • Faith healing | The Air Force scandal suggests a new approach for Democrats on religion (Kenneth Baer, The New Republic)

John Hostettler calls Democrats anti-Christian:

  • Commandments battle grows | Hostettler won House support (The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.)
  • GOP congressman calls Democrats anti-Christian | Remarks in floor debate stir protest (The Washington Post)
  • Rhetoric takes nasty turn in Congress | On Monday, House Democrats stopped debate on a defense spending bill to protest a comment by Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., that, "like moths to a flame, Democrats can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians" (Associated Press)
  • Video: Hostettler's comment (Fednet.Net)
  • 'War on Christianity' | GOP lawmaker calls Dems anti-Christian during AFA debate (Rocky Mountain News)

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What is Weblog?

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Launched in 1999, Christianity Today’s Weblog was not just one of the first religion-oriented weblogs, but one of the first published by a media organization. (Hence its rather bland title.) Mostly compiled by then-online editor Ted Olsen, Weblog rounded up religion news and opinion pieces from publications around the world. As Christianity Today’s website grew, it launched other blogs. Olsen took on management responsibilities, and the Weblog feature as such was mothballed. But CT’s efforts to round up important news and opinion from around the web continues, especially on our Gleanings feature.
Ted Olsen
Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's executive editor. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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