Government & Constitution

Supremes: Do as We Say, Not as We Do

The Supreme Court closed its session this week in a burst of contradiction and hypocrisy.

In one case, it ruled 5-4 that Texas could display the Ten Commandments on the state Capitol grounds. In another, it ruled 5-4 that two Kentucky counties could not display the Ten Commandments in their courthouses.

Writing for the majority in the latter case, Justice David Souter said that displaying the Commandments in Kentucky courthouses violates “the principle that the ‘1st Amendment mandates government neutrality … between religion and non-religion.’”

The 1st Amendment, of course, reflects no such principle. It merely prohibits Congress from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” A Kentucky county, of course, is not “Congress.” Displaying the Ten Commandment does not “establish” a religion.

Yet, Souter’s opinion was not only radically unconstitutional, it was also flagrantly hypocritical.

As revealed by the photographs below, the Supreme Court itself prominently displays the Ten Commandments in three places.

First, it displays the Commandments on its chamber doors.

Secondly, it displays the Commandments in its atrium.

Thirdly, it displays the Commandments on its exterior frieze.

Souter and his four liberal accomplices—J.P. Stevens, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor—did not order these displays of the Ten Commandments taken down.

Neither the language of the Constitution nor the historical practices of the court itself made any difference to these justices. Their message: Do as we say, not as we do.

“The Ten Commandments have profoundly influenced the formation of Western legal thought and the formation of our country. That influence is clearly seen in the Declaration of Independence, which declared that, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ The Ten Commandments provide the moral background of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of our legal system.”

—Plaque on the Ten Commandments display
in McCreary and Pulaski counties, Ky.,
which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional

“What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle. That is what prevents judges from ruling now this way, now that—thumbs up or thumbs down—as their personal preferences dictate. Today’s opinion forthrightly (or actually, somewhat less than forthrightly) admits that it does not rest upon consistently applied principle.”

—Justice Antonin Scalia,
dissenting from the court’s opinion in
the Kentucky Ten Commandments case

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  • God in the Temples of Government: Part I
  • God in the Temples of Government: Part II
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