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More government hostility to religion

Why are government bodies still erasing religious displays?


Visitors walk around the Maryland Peace Cross dedicated to World War I soldiers on Feb. 13, 2019 in Bladensburg, Md. Associated Press/Photo by Kevin Wolf

More government hostility to religion
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Recently, Arizona governor Katie Hobbs vetoed a bill which would require public schools to post the Ten Commandments. Other states are considering similar laws, but with the stroke of a pen, Hobbs killed the legislation and never gave the bill a chance.

A similar fate may be true in Itasca County, Minn. There, a new county jail included a display of the Ten Commandments in the gymnasium. But even before the building opened, there were complaints about the display. The county is weighing whether or not to paint over the words, which the sheriff said were “meant to be an encouragement” to inmates.

These are just two examples of government officials who, whether out of agreement, ignorance, or fear, followed the suggestion of activist organizations who for years campaigned to remove any vestiges of religious texts inscribed in the fabric of public settings.

In their possession as they wreaked havoc across America’s landscape was a three-pronged test from a Supreme Court decision dating back to 1971 known widely as “the Lemon test.”

The Lemon test was used to justify their actions, which often involved removing a display of the Ten Commandments, asked three questions: Does this serve a secular purpose? Does this advance or inhibit religion? Does this foster an excessive government entanglement with religion? One by one, any item with religious associations came down regardless of how long it adorned the wall of a public building.

But that was then. This is now.

In 2022, in a 6-3 decision in Kennedy v Bremerton, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Lemon was contradictory to what the Founders intended, saying, “This Court long ago abandoned Lemon and its endorsement test offshoot. … In place of Lemon and the endorsement test, this Court has instructed that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted by reference to historical practices and understandings.”

This decision came on the heels of another pronouncement by the Court in 2019 where, in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the Justices determined that a cross shaped 100-year-old WWI memorial on public land was perfectly constitutional. There, Justice Alito warned, “A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine, will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.”

Why is such prominence given to the Ten Commandments displayed in multiple government buildings?

If the Lemon test was the justification for erasing or preventing the display of the Ten Commandments, it’s time for government officials to recognize that it has been laid to rest on the ash heap of bad Supreme Court decisions. 

If their decisions to erase religious displays is about “preventing an excessive government entanglement with religion,” they are wrong. 

If they are concerned about the appearance of religious imagery on the walls of public buildings, maybe they should take a field trip to the nation’s capital and go on a walking tour of the magnificent buildings that proudly display depictions of the Ten Commandments. 

Just consider the Supreme Court building where Kennedy and American Legion cases were heard and the decisions rendered. On the lower portions of the huge wooden doors leading into the Supreme Court chambers, there is a symbolic representation of the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. Inside the courtroom, above the bench where the Supreme Court Justices hear arguments, is a marble frieze with figures representing the majesty of law and the power of government. Between them is a relief of the Roman numerals I through X. Another display of the Ten Commandments. 

Removing all the references of the Biblical Decalogue built into the architecture of government buildings throughout Washington, D.C., would require jackhammers, chisels, and high-powered sand blasters to erase the history and tradition in the foundation of the United States. 

Why is such prominence given to the Ten Commandments displayed in multiple government buildings? Are they truly part of the history and tradition of this country? 

Maybe John Quincy Adams provided the best answer to that question: “The law given from Sinai was a civil and municipal as well as a moral and religious code; it contained many statutes ... of universal application—laws essential to the existence of men in society, and most of which have been enacted by every nation which ever professed any code of laws.” 


Matt Krause

Matt Krause is an attorney with First Liberty Institute.  A former state legislator in Texas, he directs the Restoring Faith in America Project at First Liberty.  


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