March 2 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. Supreme Court, hearing arguments on whether a 6-foot-tall Ten Commandments monument can remain on the Texas state Capitol grounds, debated when government may acknowledge the role of religion in public life.
Several justices expressed support for letting the monument remain on the Capitol grounds. They noted that many legislatures open their sessions with a prayer and that the high court itself has a decorative frieze that shows Moses, holding a tablet depicting the commandments, among other historical lawgivers.
“You don’t object to that,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said to Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, representing homeless lawyer Thomas Van Orden of Austin, who challenged the monument. Later in the argument, though, she told the Texas attorney general that every monument on the state Capitol grounds “conveys a message of state endorsement.”
Display proponents, including the Bush administration, say the commandments are a foundation of secular U.S. law and placing them on public property doesn’t violate the Constitution’s ban on government establishment of religion. Critics say they are a government endorsement of religion.