Van Orden v. Berry is one of the two cases before the Court this term challenging the display of the Ten Commandments on public property. Van Orden involves a display on the Texas State Capitol grounds–which consist of 22 acres and contain a wide array of monuments, plaques and seals–depicting the secular and religious history of Texas. It was a gift given by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1961. At that time, the Ten Commandments were still widely thought of as foundational principles and the basis of our criminal laws. The purpose of the donation was “to promote youth morality and to help stop the alarming increase in delinquency.”
The display was placed, appropriately, between the Supreme Court and the State Capitol. The monument was temporarily removed in 1990 during renovations; but when it was returned to its position, it now faced the State Capitol to reflect the role of the Commandments in making law. This was apparently too much for some who want God removed from public life. Neither the lower federal court nor the U.S. Court of Appeals believed the display violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; however, the plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. This case, along with McCreary County Kentucky v. ACLU of Kentucky, the other Ten Commandments case, are two of the most important cases before the Supreme Court this term.
– Mark L. Chance.