- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Conservative groups strongly denounced yesterday’s Supreme Court rulings on the Ten Commandments, and most liberal groups weren’t thrilled either, saying the court sent a mixed and confusing message.

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said the rulings, which struck down two Commandments displays in Kentucky while upholding one on the grounds of the Texas state Capitol, show “a religious witch hunt” afoot at “virtually every level of our government.”

“It is nothing less than historical revisionism to try to use the First Amendment as an excuse to scrub away all governmental references to the Ten Commandments and our Judeo-Christian heritage,” he added.

However, Americans United for Separation for Church and State called it “a mixed verdict.”

“But on balance it’s a win for separation of religion and government,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director.

“The court rejected calls by religious right legal groups to give government an unfettered right to display religious symbols. The justices wisely refused to jettison long-standing church-state safeguards,” he said. “Public buildings should display the Bill of Rights, not the Ten Commandments.”

But the Family Research Council pointed out that the Supreme Court building itself boasts several displays of the Commandments on friezes, doors and gates; in contradiction to the Kentucky ruling.

“This ruling by the Supreme Court is not only denigrating to our culture, but it undermines the very laws we already have in place,” council President Tony Perkins said. “Forbidding the Ten Commandments opens the door to hostility toward religion, which is contrary to the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.”

Jan LaRue of Concerned Women for America called it “a stretch beyond reason.”

“With this abominable ruling, you would expect to hear hammers and chisels resurfacing the court’s own walls and doors that display Moses and the Commandments,” she said.

In Congress, one conservative Republican said the split court rulings and the likely future litigation might force Congress to act.

“The American people must be allowed a say in how the government treats the free exercise of religion and free speech,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican and leader of the Values Action Team. “We cannot rely on unelected judges to be sole arbiters on this matter.”

A nonreligious group, the American Humanist Association, said that it was “not terribly pleased” with the Texas ruling, which upheld the Commandments’ presence as part of a broader historical display and that the Kentucky ruling could have been more “sweeping.”

“We were disappointed that the split decision seemed to be influenced by popular pressure,” said Tony Hileman, executive director of the association. “To say the Ten Commandments are not religious documents; well, they are religious documents. Even the lawyers who argued these cases before the courts made it clear they are religious statements.”

A spokesman for the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press yesterday said the twin rulings did not give clear guidance on religious display issues.

“In these and similar recent cases, it’s hard to find a clear line between the acceptable acknowledgment of religion and the unacceptable endorsement of religion,” said David Masci, a senior fellow at Pew.

Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the ruling will chill local governments from displaying religious symbols.

“Some local governments will decide not to take a chance and be forced to pay monstrous attorney fee awards to organizations like the ACLU if they lose,” he said, referring to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the Kentucky case.

Locally, yesterday’s ruling would only apply to Montgomery County Circuit Court, which has a Ten Commandments display on the third-floor wall, along with five other historical documents.

“At this point we’re conducting a survey now. We are aware that the Supreme Court released its ruling today,” said Sally Rankin, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Judiciary.

“One opinion I saw is 74 pages. To my knowledge, no one has had a chance to read it. After that’s done, we’ll take the appropriate steps to make sure we’re in compliance.”

Keyonna Summers, Amy Doolittle and Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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