The Ten Commandments took center stage yesterday at the U.S. Supreme Court, with legal supporters urging they not be torn from the public square and opponents saying their presence evokes an improper blessing by government.
Justices questioned how displays of the Ten Commandments on government property compare to Thanksgiving proclamations, legislative prayers, and a marble carving above the justices that features Moses among other lawgivers. All those religious displays are considered constitutional.
"It's so hard to draw that line," said Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, referring to the point at which a government display involving religion becomes unconstitutional.
Back-to-back oral arguments focused on a monument at the Texas Capitol and courthouse displays in Kentucky. They figure into a much wider debate over the appropriateness of hundreds, if not thousands, of Ten Commandments displays across the country and dozens of court cases challenging whether these religious symbols represent a government endorsement of religion. In the days and weeks ahead of the arguments, people on both sides prayed, debated, and speculated about how the justices might rule.
"The Ten Commandments is enormously divisive right now," argued Erwin Chemerinsky, who represented Thomas Van Orden, a homeless man who challenged the Texas monument.
He cited numerous examples of the tension, including hate messages he had received and especially the ousting of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who unsuccessfully placed a commandments monument in his state's judicial building.
In the Texas case, the court considered whether a 6-foot granite monument outside the state Capitol should be permitted to remain where it has been for decades, declaring "I am the ...1
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