In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court answered the question of whether the U.S. Constitution allows the Ten Commandments to be displayed on government property with a resounding It depends. In a pair of decisions handed down on the same day, the court ruled both that a Ten Commandments display at the Texas Capitol passed constitutional muster while those adorning the walls of rural Kentucky courthouses did not.
The main difference in those cases was intent. The Texas monument had been erected in 1961 and had stood unchallenged for 40 years, which was proof enough for Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the majority opinion, that it did not amount to an endorsement by the state of a particular religion. In Kentucky, the displays were more recent and a thinly veiled endorsement of Judeo-Christian monotheism which the court found, by a 5-4 margin, violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
Requiring the Commandments to be displayed at public schools is another matter. The Supreme Court settled that question more than three decades ago, ruling that such a mandate "had no secular legislative purpose" and was "plainly religious in nature."
State Rep. Phil Stephenson, a Houston-area Republican, is undeterred. On Monday, he filed a resolution calling for the Ten Commandments to be displayed at public schools and government buildings. Public prayer and frequent use of the word "God" would also be encouraged.
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Stephenson flips the Supreme Court's logic on its head, arguing that, rather than their stated aim of protecting religious liberty, prohibitions on Ten Commandment displays and similar measures demonstrate "hostility to observance of faith by disabling the recognition of our religious heritage." That was not what the founding fathers, who, Stephenson writes, "believed devotedly that there was a God," had in mind when the wrote the Constitution.
All that is boilerplate for evangelical conservatives. More curious is the other piece of Stephenson's argument for public religious displays:
The overwhelming majority of voters in the 2010 Republican Party Primary Election voted in favor of the public acknowledgement of God, and the 2012 platform of the Republican Part of Texas affirms ''that the public acknowledgement of God is undeniable in our history and is vital to our freedom, prosperity, and strength."
In other words, we might as well make it official. Public policy in Texas is already dominated by the small cadre of Texas voters who vote in Republican primaries. Why not just write it into law? On what grounds could the Supreme Court possibly object to such rock-solid legal reasoning?