June 26, 2005

What I hope the Supreme Court will do in the Ten Commandments case.

The AP's Gina Holland writes:
The Supreme Court ends its work Monday with the highest of drama: an anticipated retirement, a ruling on the constitutionality of government Ten Commandments displays and decisions in other major cases.
You know, I teach "Religion and the Constitution," and I'm especially interested in all the Supreme Court cases about the Religion clauses, but I've got to tell you, I think it's very bizarre of us to regard the Ten Commandments case as the big case. I understand that we are drawn to symbols and that it's especially easy to feel that you're up-to-speed on an issue like this and have a lot to argue about, but it really just isn't that important whether there's a monument amid other monuments somewhere on the state capitol grounds or a framed text amid other framed texts on a courthouse wall.

I'm sure people will get very excited about this case whichever way it comes down, and I'll be excited too, and I plan to write lots of posts about it here tomorrow. But I'd just like to tell you in advance that I really don't care which side wins. I don't think it's the sort of thing that matters much at all. These are inconsequential displays, which is why they'll be approved if they are approved and why it won't make much difference if they are taken down either.

What I'm hoping for is a crisp, useful opinion clarifying the law in this area.

IN THE COMMENTS: I explain my support for a middle position on the Establishment Clause (responding to three different commenters):
There are ideologues who want to purge religion from the public eye who care [how the Court decides this particular case] and religionists who want to intrude a lot more of it who care. If either of these groups were getting very far, I would care about the outcome in the cases that would arise. But the displays at issue in this case are inconsequential. Still, they are too much for the extreme secularists and just the beginning of what extremists on the other side would like to see. The Court needs to draw a good line that fends off both extremes. I don't care which side of the line the particular displays at issue in this case end up on....

I ... think the [Establishment Clause] extremists are blowing [this case] out of normal proportion. Everyone needs to learn to get along, and those who want to purify things too much don't impress me. Sure, they'll be put out if the government wins in these cases. I don't think people who take great offense easily should be driving the outcomes....

I think most atheists ... and many religious people ... accept and even enjoy seeing evidence of other religions around them. It's part of art and history and culture -- part of the beauty of the world that we live in (either by the grace of God or by pure, weird chance).

12 comments:

EddieP said...

Ann, I understand your interest in this topic and will be eagerly awaiting for your posts. I'm a conservative, yet I have "no dog in this fight". You can deny all or permit all, I don't think you can have it any other way. However,if the 10 C's are permitted, you just know that CAIR and Islamic Jihad etc. are going to insist that their screeds be posted as well. Our courthouses are going to look like billboards.

Dave said...

Clearly the case does matter, and the presence or absence of religious symbols are important. Otherwise, this would not be such a controversial case.

It sounds like you're arguing, Ann, that you don't care much about the issues.

But there are many people who do care, and for them this would seem to be a very big deal.

My personal preference would be for all religious symbols to disappear from public view. But then that merely reflects my opinion of religion.

Ann Althouse said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ann Althouse said...

Dave: There are ideologues who want to purge religion from the public eye who care and religionists who want to intrude a lot more of it who care. If either of these groups were getting very far, I would care about the outcome in the cases that would arise. But the displays at issue in this case are inconsequential. Still, they are too much for the extreme secularists and just the beginning of what extremists on the other side would like to see. The Court needs to draw a good line that fends off both extremes. I don't care which side of the line the particular displays at issue in this case end up on.

EddieP: I disagree that you have to go to one extreme or the other. The Court has been setting a middle path, which is good, but it hasn't articulated the rule in a clear and satisfying way.

Eric said...

You're missing the point, in my opinion, as to why people see the ten commandment cases as important decisions.

While they may be "inconsequential displays" to you, to some people they are extremely offensive. That is something that is often lost on the majority who believe.

The ten commandments are a lot like sports teams named after native americans. To non-native americans, the names are no big deal, but to native americans they are highly offensive. I don't think a non-native american can ever say, oh, the names are inconsequential without adding the qualification "to me."

Ann Althouse said...

Eric: I'm not missing that point, I just think the extremists are blowing things out of normal proportion. Everyone needs to learn to get along, and those who want to purify things too much don't impress me. Sure, they'll be put out if the government wins in these cases. I don't think people who take great offense easily should be driving the outcomes.

vnjagvet said...

Ann, I feel the same way you do about these cases, but I am afraid we will not get any closer to a principled, workable analytical framework helping ordinary mortals deal with the exquisite tension between the (non)establishment clause and the free exercise clause.

One thing puzzles me about this area of the law. When and how did we get to the point where prohibition of laws respecting an establishment of religion equates practically speaking to the requirement that government shall never "offend" anyone on account of religion?

Ann Althouse said...

Jim: Establishment Clause doctrine hasn't been interpreted that way by the Court. It's just that various ideologues make a great effort to make you think that it has.

Steven said...

As an atheist, I'd just like to say that fellow atheists offended by displays of the Ten Commandments are oversensitive. What next, demanding removals of statues of Justice because she was a Greco-Roman goddess (Justica/Dike)? Mythological symbols of law are entirely approprate at legislatures and courthouses, whther your neighbors believe in them or not.

(Now, those of you who believe in God(s) and/or Godess(es) and want the Commandments removed as contrary to their beliefs, I can sympathize with you.)

Ann Althouse said...

Steven: I think most atheists feel as you do and many religious people also accept and even enjoy seeing evidence of other religions around them. It's part of art and history and culture -- part of the beauty of the world that we live in (either by the grace of God or by pure, weird chance).

retired randy said...

James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution", wrote in July of 1810, "Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together. It can't be more plain than that.

Sean said...

Well, Eric, crucifixes submerged in urine, and pictures of the Virgin Mary made of vaginas, and photographs of men with whips stuck up their anuses etc. are offensive to many Americans. Are you telling me that the government should be barred from subsidizing such things, and that the ACLU is dead wrong on these issues?