August 27, 2007

The grand entrance to the state courthouse in Brooklyn.

The entrance to the state courthouse in Brooklyn

Ten Commandments on Brooklyn courthouse

Four arguments that this does not violate the Establishment Clause:

1. Old things carved in stone should be left alone.

2. It would take an outrageous, destructive act to get rid of it, and that would send a message of hostility toward religion.

3. It is aesthetically pleasing to elite tastes -- unlike that 2.6 ton block of granite Judge Roy Moore plunked in the courthouse lobby in Alabama.

4. Moses -- whom I initially perceived as ready to crack the little people over the head with the stone tablets -- is pointing at the ninth commandment. The ninth commandment is the prohibition against bearing false witness, and that's a solid rule for a courthouse.

On the other hand... it's not stuck around back where it looks like a fast food drive-up order box. You can't portray it as part of a collection of various monuments. It's right there by the door, conveying a strong message that this is the state's idea of what goes on here.

58 comments:

Chris said...

Just the numbers, no words?

MadisonMan said...

Yes, if you bear false witness, down come the tablets on your head. (I wonder how many going in realize what the 9th commandment -- I almost wrote amendment -- says)

There are also no words to read promoting anything, it's all a non-blatant image. That makes a difference. Who likes religion shoved in their face?

hdhouse said...

IX is particularly appropos on the day of Gonzales' announcement.

I have fought a thousand battles in my life regarding spending public money on religious things...but I don't mind this at all...it is more about ethics than anything and particularly so in the subject matter of the IX....

tell the truth should be above every courthouse and courtroom. save that, a nice picture reminded (like men's restroom) is not over the line.

Ann Althouse said...

"I wonder how many going in realize what the 9th commandment -- I almost wrote amendment -- says"

Yeah, I wrote "amendment" and had to correct it, then wrote it again and had to correct it. Emblematic of the problem, isn't it? Mixing up church and state.

The Drill SGT said...

Tell the Truth or I'l come down Hard on your Ass!

I don't have a problem with that clearly secular ethics message

Skeptical said...

Depends on how you count 'em. Some denominations split the coveting commandments, making them #9 and #10. So maybe Moses is telling them not to covet their neighbors' wives.

Palladian said...

You could argue that it's not Moses at all, merely Lady Justice camping it up a bit.

Pogo said...

Leftism has been remarkably successful at giving people the idea that religion has cooties, and must be abolished in any public form.

Excpet Islam, for which we will install foot baths, and public rooms for worship.

Once the Christianists figure out that blowing stuff up gets you all sorts of political conscessions, watch out.

But until then, Founders be damned, the christian religion is the cause of endless evil in the US and its expression shall be forbidden. Coming soon: public soundsystem use of the call to prayer.

Original Mike said...

Where's 11 - 15?

Did you have to look up what #9 was, Ann? I would have had to.

Simon said...

Ann, what do you make of Justice Thomas' take on the establishment clause from Elk Grove and Cutter?

PatHMV said...

Moses dropped the 3rd tablet, original Mike... don't you know the history of the world? ;-)

Bissage said...

I hate to be a poop-head, but that bas-relief is about as secular as can be.

Let me explain.

The drive-through speaker thing was all squawky.

Moses, in his fury, tore the menu sign from its post.

He carried it inside the Burger King and up to the front counter.

He held it aloft for all to see.

He is ordering the number 9 Valu-Meal: (a) Eight piece chicken tenders, (b) Large fries, (c) Large drink.

And yes, Moses would like to Super-Size it.

Maxine Weiss said...

There are totem poles in New York.

The Drill SGT said...

tell the truth should be above every courthouse and courtroom. save that, a nice picture reminded (like men's restroom) is not over the line.

something subtle over each urinal like:

"Perjury is subject to up to 5 years in jail"; NY Penal Code 142-155

"Stick to something you are good at"

joe said...

It's Jerry Garcia holding up the Bill of Rights.

Art Hackett said...

I think the updated version is: Thou shalt not bear false witness unless there's no underlying offense.

NY said...

Ann is this on the Adams St. or Court Street side? When I have gone to the court house for jury duty I don't remember them on the Court St. side of the building.

Matthew said...

Ann,

Nice try but the Supre seen in the picture is actually from Supremes High School in Brooklyn, also known as P.S. 223. That is not Moses, but rather a public school teacher. The teacher is clearly saying "I can count this high."

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann is this on the Adams St. or Court Street side? When I have gone to the court house for jury duty I don't remember them on the Court St. side of the building."

Court Street.

Richard Dolan said...

"It is aesthetically pleasing to elite tastes." It's quite rare to hear a kind word about anything connected with Supreme, Kings. Perhaps it takes a visitor actually to look at the thing and pay attention to the details. This building is more often compared to Soviet worker-paradise style architecture, in terms more flattering to the Soviet originals than the Brooklyn copy.

The religious theme is continued, quite explicitly, in the courtrooms inside. Some have just the usual anodyne stuff (e.g., In God We Trust). But others have Biblical quotations on the walls. I recall seeing a few from Isaiah, usually on the "righteous man" theme. In December the local Chabad puts up a huge menorah in front of the courthouse, making a nice pair with the Christmas tree and other decorations put up by the City in the same public space.

I don't think anyone is likely to come up with convincing distinctions between Brooklyn's religiously themed efforts at civic inspiration, and the sort of thing that drives First Amendment purists crazy elsewhere. It's just that no one pays much attention here, either to the inscriptions themselves or whatever may have been the State's intentions in putting them on the walls many years ago.

As it happens, the State has built an enormous new courthouse a few blocks away from this one. I haven't had occasion to go in it yet, but it would be interesting to see whether the same religiously themed efforts at inculcating civic virtue are continued there. I doubt it. Anyone know?

Mortimer Brezny said...

Moses -- whom I initially perceived as ready to crack the little people over the head with the stone tablets --

Totally stole my comment. You owe me dinner. What were you doing at the state courthouse, anyway?

Ann Althouse said...

What was I doing there? It's right next to Brooklyn Law School. I was walking past it.

I'll have to go in and check out those details Richard is talking about.

Gedaliya said...

I worked across the street from the courthouse on Adams (on the 28th floor of the Marriot Hotel building), for three years. I think you'll agree that the courthouse building itself is the ugliest structure in New York, bar none. I am sure it was designed by a Soviet architect during some kind of cultural exchange program in the 1950s.

The building is catty-corner to one of the more majestic Brooklyn structures, Borough Hall, where I used to attend numerous meetings. I do hope and pray the day will not be too far off when they raze that courthouse and replace it with something worthy to stand in Brooklyn.

Simon said...

Richard Dolan said...
"... [T]he sort of thing that drives First Amendment purists crazy elsewhere." (Emphasis added)

I don't really like that term as a description of the ACLU types - it seems to connote that their interpretation is correct as a matter of pure first principles and the folks who disagree with them are advancing a sophisticated reading, are shying away from or weaseling out of the "pure" meaning. I prefer the term "First Amendment fundamentalists" for such people, since it conveys much the same message while having a slightly pejorative air.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Once the Christianists figure out that blowing stuff up gets you all sorts of political conscessions, watch out.

Fat chance. The minute some angry white Christofascists start chanting Death to the Heathens and blowing stuff up because of some Piss Christ 'artwork', you'll see the Lefties screaming to get Ashcroft back in office, wiretap churches, and authorize waterboarding for anyone wearing a crucifix.

Heck they'd probably want Rumsfeld back in to draft a plan to invade Italy and depose the Pope.

Ann Althouse said...

As to the building being ugly, I must confess that I only looked at the entrance area. I thought it looked reasonably okay and that the bas relief of Moses was nicely done.

Gedaliya said...

Apologies to Richard Dolan, who beat me to the punch characterizing the courthouse as Soviet-style architecture. I didn't read his comment prior to posting mine.

Gedaliya said...

BTW Ann...

Did you notice the monument to Robert Kennedy not far from the Court St. building entrance?

jimbino said...

How did Moses know how to read God's Roman numerals centuries before God created the Romans?

igbalonigbanlo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
igbalonigbanlo said...

"There's a passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17... I been sayin' that shit for years. And if you ever heard it, it meant your ass. I never really questioned what it meant. I thought it was just a cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker before you popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin' made me think twice. Now I'm thinkin': it could mean you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. 9mm here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could be you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I'd like that. But that shit ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be a shepherd." - Jules in Pulp Fiction

Religion and it's many uses....

# 56 said...

Iggy, what was in the briefcase?

Hoosier, that's exactly right. The difference, vs CAIR et al, would be that active Christanists would be on board.

B said...

Interesting isn't it that the commandment doesn't say "Thou shalt not lie", but rather "Thou shalt not bear false witness.

Bearing False Witness encompasses more than just lying - saying that something is true that isn't. False Witness goes to the point of the bearer not leaving any misleading or implication about the truth whatsoever. That's where we get "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth".

Yea, that happens in court.

Mortimer Brezny said...

It's right next to Brooklyn Law School. I was walking past it.

You'll answer my most pedestrian of questions, but ignore the ones involving that dinner you were so lucky to win? (I'll also note here that "at" the courthouse doesn't assume you walked inside.)

In any event, that's a good location for a law school. The students could just stroll into the court to observe proceedings. I wonder if they have some sort of arrangement for their clinics, e.g., representation of indigent immigrants.

The Exalted said...

pogo,

where do you live? mars?

Pogo said...

Gosh, Exalted, what an inspired critique! What a marvelous takedown! Ooph, that one smarted, boy, it sure did!

You should have your own blog!

Kirby Olson said...

Who did the bas-relief?

Ruth Anne Adams said...

The ninth commandment is the prohibition against bearing false witness, and that's a solid rule for a courthouse.

On the Catholic Top Ten, Number 9 has to do with coveting thy neighbor's wife.

Jimbino: LOL!

Pogo said...

Ruth Anne
You're quite right,. And the bas relief shows what appears to be some same sex wife coveting that necessitates Moses pointing out exactly that.

Joe said...

Looks to me like Charlton Heston is about to beat the daylights out of the paparazzi annoying him.

hdhouse said...

Hey Ruth Anne...the catholics pushed that back as far as they could.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

hdhouse: Yep. I love that the 10th prohibits coveting thy neighbor's ass.

. said...

take a hammer & chisel to it

Emy L. Nosti said...

So, that's the problem! I see why so many "Christians" don't think twice about trampling the 10 Commandments; they think that vi, ix, etc. are merely obscure Latin words and constitute the entirety of each commandment! We must rectify this post-haste and have the tablets include, at the very least, the full text of commandments 6-10. Of course, we need to install monuments at the White House and Congress as well, and perhaps mail hard copies to Haggard, Vitter et al. It's about time someone lassoed in these moral cowboys and held them to the standards that we decent human beings thought were obvious.

PS: Can we also append one about molesting children? God must have wanted to avoid insulting our intelligence by listing the stupefyingly self-evident, or perhaps he just didn't think "The Eleven Commandments" had the same ring.

Let the fun begin.

The Exalted said...

your analysis/observations are so alien to any normal person, its the only answer i have

else you are completely insane

jimbino said...

As Hitchens points out, those Jews must have been a stupid, wicked bunch before God pointed out to them that they shouldn't lie, cheat, steal, disrespect their parents or keep their kids peckers intact. Where the hell did the Chinese and other ancients get their lists?

Fletch said...

jimdumbo-

How did Moses know how to read God's Roman numerals centuries before God created the Romans?

Duh... He knew "God"!

That whole "burning bush" thing?

...was simply another manifestation of Charlie Brown's teacher!

Internet Ronin said...

The probable reasons that there are no complaints about the obvious references to religion here are that this building because it was built in the mid-1950's, under a Democratic administration, and it was designed by the same firm that designed the Empire State Building.

AlphaLiberal said...

And, to review for the holier than thou false accusation flingers in our midst...

Ninth Commandment:
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

That means, "don't lie about people."

The religious right seems to regard this one as optional.

Also, there's no commandment about homosexuality. So ease up on the homos.

downtownlad said...

Ann,

This is a serious question. Do you really not think this statue should be destroyed?

The Brooklyn Court House is possibly the ugliest building in all of New York. I'd use any excuse to remove this blight from Downtown Brooklyn. If a violation of the establishment clause is reason enough, I say don't pass up such an opportunity.

Destroy this building now.

downtownlad said...

I see that gedaliya already brought up the ugliness of the building and that Ann somehow wasn't paying attention.

I don't believe that. I am certain that Ann did notice the ugliness of the building. But the horrific nature of that event was probably wiped from her memory by some kind of neurological defense mechanism . . .

ShadowFox said...

Consider adding another reason:

The commandments are not even listed. It's just a biblical imagery, not biblical language.

Ann Althouse said...

There are lots of ugly buildings around here. I don't focus on them individually. I did focus on that bas relief. That was distinctive.

From Inwood said...

Jimbino

About Moses & those Roman Numbers:

Give Moses a break; so he’s using Goy numbers. He should use Arabic numbers?

Anyway, perhaps the artist meant it as an hommage to Robert Moses.

From Inwood said...

Prof A.

You have found the only thing in or on Supreme Kings (as in the NYS Supreme Court for Kings County, which is co-terminus with the NYC borough of Brooklyn) worth looking at. Thank you for sending your picture & causing some thought.

You must, however, now be aware that some of us, of all political persuasion, are still tremendously, um, disappointed by Cadman Plaza – it’s completely inappropriate to its surroundings - & your photo thus cheered me up, though this depiction is neither insightful nor high art. In fact, because of that, no one, except an extreme anti-religion person should find it threatening.

Just be aware, then, that it’s nothing personal to you. Cadman Plaza & the building housing, inter alia, Supreme Kings (as in the NYS Supreme Court for Kings County, which is co-terminus with the NYC borough of Brooklyn), the largest public building in the Civic Center, both raised a lot of hackles among City lovers. So the passionate responses.

Supreme Kings itself was described by a leading architectural critic of the time as “a breathtaking sight…which may have the distinction of being the ugliest new building in America.” He went on to say “Imagine an old transatlantic liner with the prow and stern and funnels cut off, every line made straight, planted on open land. The building looks curiously incomplete, with ribbons of black stone joining the windows, a gigantic flower planter without flowers.”

I think that that is a bit much. I wouldn't describe this edifice as ugly, just an uninspiring failure; Chalk it up to the '50s & ‘60s Modernism.

BTW, Supreme Kings haters, it could be worse. Look at 650 5th, a 46 story building with a seven story base, somewhat along the same lines.

And Cadman Plaza was to be, depending on who was the Minister of Propaganda at the time, another St Louis Gateway, Pittsburg Golden Triangle, Center Sq. in Philly, you name it. At least no one described it as another U. of Va, Vienna’s Belvedere Palace, or Vatican City! It was compared, tho, to the old “City Beautiful” projects.

NYC destroyed many an old building & in your words replaced ‘em with many an ugly building. Those who complained were dismissed as fuddy-duddies; when they were not being compared to Mussolini, that is. (I kept saying that I wanted Palladian, not Mussolini).

And they did tear down the old El.
And they kept the old Municipal Building. That’s me, an old fuddy duddy.

So I welcome your pix of what are, if not true beauty, at least something truly wrought. More, please.

PS: I am indebted to Stern’s “New York 1960” for my quote &, along with Willensky’s, “When Brooklyn Was The World” as a memory refresher, but, hopefully, I’ve not plagiarized.

ShadowFox said...

The problem with Roman numbers has little to do with Goyim. It's anachronistic--Rome was not around yet, let alone the number system.

From Inwood said...

Shadow Fox

That must be why Moses didn't know what time it was: his sundial had Roman Numbers! He bought it from a goy. Such a deal.

From Inwood said...

Prof A

I forgot.

Stern's "New York 1960" has this to say about BLS:

"The new [Brooklyn] law school building (Praeger-Kavanagh-Waterbury, 1967) at 250 Joralemon Street, which replaced the venerable Kings County Courthouse, was a banal nine-story white-marble-clad structure set behind a wind-swept plaza and topped by a prominent mechanical penthouse."

Spot on. Sorry.