Though I'm tired of this issue, and I don't think it's one that we'll win on in the foreseeable future, I'm glad to see that SCOTUS ruled Kentucky's Ten Commandements display unconstitutional. The opinions don't seem to be available yet, and the "em ess em" might be misreporting the whole thing, but I find the decision to be wholly ordinary and unsurprising, and the dissent to be really weird.
Justice Souter, says CNN, writes for the majority something very similar to what the Supreme Court has said in the past:
“The touchstone for our analysis is the principle that the First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,” Justice David Souter wrote for the majority.
“When the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion, it violates tha central Establishment clause value of official religious neutrality,” he said.
Does any serious person disagree with that? Does anyone think that the government shouldn't be neutral "between religion and religion?" I guess some people do, but I have a hard time believing that they really think that -- that they're not just exploiting a political issue.
Souter's opinion, in short, is really the same thing that the Supreme Court has been saying for a very long time. Since at least
Lemon v. Kurtz (1971) [sorry, that's Lemon v. Kurtzman; thanks to reader Michael for pointing it out], and, more recently, Allegheny v. ACLU (1989)
Although, in refining the definition of governmental action that unconstitutionally "advances" religion, the Court's subsequent decisions have variously spoken in terms of "endorsement," "favoritism," "preference," or "promotion," the essential principle remains the same: The Clause, at the very least, prohibits government from appearing to take a position on questions of religious belief or from "making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community."
That the Kentucky display fits into this same pattern is patently obvious to me, and I really wonder why the court bothered taking the case.
Justice Scalia's dissent, if it's being reported accurately, is what's really perplexing:
In a dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that Ten Commandments displays are a legitimate tribute to the nation's religious and legal history.
Justice Scalia can't really believe that the intention of the displays is to honor the nation's "religious and legal history" can he? Again, can any serious person believe that this is the goal of ten commandments displays advocates? Is Justice Scalia living in a fantasy land?
Not to be too critical of the ten commandments people -- I don't think most of them are necessarily insincere or bad people or anything. But it seems that their intentions are so clear. Roy Moore, for instance, famously answered "yes" to the following questions:
[W]as your purpose in putting the Ten Commandments monument in the Supreme Court rotunda to acknowledge GOD’s law and GOD’s sovereignty?
And the monument is also intended to acknowledge GOD’s overruling power over the affairs of men, would that be correct?
There's not much ambiguity here. And if Kentucky wants to distinguish itself from Judge Moore's philosophy, it now has a clear ruling from the Supreme Court on how to do so.