Court shows the wisdom of … history
June 28, 2005
Give the U.S. Supreme Court credit for getting one right. The court has been in a serious slump lately, so we were naturally concerned about a ruling on the Ten Commandments – a contentious and philosophically significant issue that hadn’t been addressed by the high court in decades.
The result was two decisions this week that certainly won’t settle the debate, but also seem to be satisfactory responses to questions that have no absolute answers.
The Supreme Court was right to say the Ten Commandments have a significant place in the legal tradition of the founding of this country. To say otherwise would be to deny the facts of history.
The court was also right to say the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – is a clear guideline against government proselytizing.
So a case-by-case determination must be made on public displays of the Ten Commandments. Are they more about legal tradition or more about religion?
It’s judgment call, as it should be. A line has been drawn – difficult to define, shifting from community to community – that allows religious symbols a place in public life but makes clear government must have no role in promoting a particular one.
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As wishy-washy as it might seem, how else was the court to rule?
It couldn’t bar Christianity’s or any religion’s symbolism from being recognized as a shaping force in both the country’s history and its future.
Nor could it allow the zealous faithful to impose their version of divine truth on the rest of us by erecting monuments on public property.
We might even suggest the court’s ruling contains a bit of the wisdom of Solomon – but only in a historical sense, of course.