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Religion under a secular assault
Special Report: First of three parts.
Oral arguments were to begin before the U.S. Supreme Court on one of the most litigated questions in American law: Should the Ten Commandments be displayed on government property?
Outside, protesters sang hymns and held up signs proclaiming “The 10 Commandments: The way to live your life.” A few feet away, a larger group clustered around Ellen Birch, a member of American Atheists, who describes herself as a descendant of Thomas Jefferson.
“A favorite claim of fundamentalists,” she told anyone listening, is that America is “indebted to the Bible and Christianity for our laws.”
Not so, Miss Birch says.
“State support of a religion leads to corruption within both government and religion,” she says, adding that Jefferson himself said, “The wall of separation between church and state was absolutely essential in a free society.”
The clash of cultures, between spiritual and secular America, was on full public display.
Secularists such as Miss Birch cite Jefferson’s wall in their fight to exclude God from public life, proposing to ban creches at city hall, Christmas carols in public schools, graduation prayers at colleges and grace over meals at military academies — as well as the more than 4,000 stone and concrete testaments to the Ten Commandments across the country.
They’re part of a network of organizations that shares logistics, troops, board members and funding sources and includes radical feminists, humanists, atheists and liberal Jewish and Christian groups. Four organizations furnish most of the leadership.
The oldest and best-known is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), whose Kentucky chapter is the plaintiff in one of the two cases before the Supreme Court. The others are Americans United for Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way (PFAW) and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). The latter two filed friends-of-the-court briefs in support of the lawsuits.
Lawyers argued the two cases — Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary County, Ky. v. ACLU of Kentucky — in a Supreme Court chamber surrounded by engraved images of the Ten Commandments.
The carved Commandments on the grounds of the Texas Capitol in Austin is excessive, Duke University Law School professor Erwin Chemerinsky argued on behalf of Thomas Van Orden, a homeless, disbarred lawyer.
By Tom Fitton
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