March 3, 2005

Church-State Boundary Divides Supreme Court

From The Lewiston Tribune (update: link no longer active): "Below a frieze of Moses holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the marshal having proclaimed his 'God save this honorable court,' the Supreme Court justices pondered anew how to define the boundary between church and state."

Should Ten Commandments displays be allowed on government property? No. Why should we care one way or another? First, our tax dollars are being used to purchase and maintain religious symbols. If we come from a different faith or reject religion outright, should we be expected to allow our money to be spent this way? Second and most important, when the government sponsors any form of religion (e.g., selects a religious symbol and displays it on government-owned property), this is offensive to persons of other faiths (or no faith).

Justice Anthony Kennedy said, "If an atheist walks by, he can avert his eyes." This comment reflects both insensitivity and a fundamental ignorance of the issues involved in this debate. By selecting the Ten Commandments, the government is showing preference to one particular religion (Christianity).

I am growing tired of the weak argument that government should be able to display religious symbols because of their historical value (i.e., because the United States was supposedly founded by Christians). If this argument is valid, one could make the same claim about slavery!

Justice Scalia said, "It's a profoundly religious message, but it's a profoundly religious message believed in by a vast majority of the American people." How is this relevant? The court is not supposed to be influenced by the superstitions of the ignorant masses. Again, there was a time when the majority of the American people supported slavery and regarded non-white persons as inferior. Does this mean that the court should have blocked Civil Rights legislation? Scalia's argument is irrelevant.

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