Supreme Court Reaffirms Constitutional Principle of Government Neutrality Toward Religion in Split Decisions on Ten Commandments

The Supreme Court today reaffirmed the constitutional principle of government neutrality toward religion, which protects every American’s religious liberty, while ruling in two different ways in cases involving public displays of the Ten Commandments.

In a case from Kentucky, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the posting of the Ten Commandments in several county courthouses violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause. In a case from Texas, the Court ruled 5-4 that a Ten Commandments display among other displays on the grounds of the Texas capitol was constitutional given its history and context.

Justice David Souter’s majority opinion in the Kentucky case reaffirmed the central constitutional principle of government neutrality toward religion, saying that the Kentucky display had the impermissible predominant purpose of advancing religion.

“The affirmation of the constitutional principle of government neutrality toward religion is the most important aspect of these rulings,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. “While we disagree with how the Court applied that principle to the facts in Texas, we are very pleased that the Court has rejected efforts to dismantle church-state separation.”

“Religion and religious liberty have thrived together in the United States because both are protected by the separation of church and state,” said Neas.

“Everyone interested in religious freedom should want the government to stay neutral when it comes to religion,” said Neas. “Religious Right leaders who say these cases are about restricting people from worshipping freely or speaking out about their faith are simply not telling the truth,” said Neas.

Neas said today’s rulings highlight how closely divided the current Supreme Court is on fundamental constitutional questions, and how much of an impact future Justices will have on Americans’ constitutional rights and legal protections.

People For the American Way Foundation filed amicus curiae briefs in the Kentucky and Texas cases urging the Court to rule both displays unconstitutional.

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