Monday, June 27, 2005

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Attorney General Abbott Applauds U. S. Supreme Court Decision Affirming Texas Ten Commandments Monument

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today hailed a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld a Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds as a constitutional acknowledgment of religion. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who wrote the plurality opinion in Van Orden v. Perry, said the Ten Commandments have “an undeniable historical meaning.” Attorney General Abbott delivered the oral arguments for the State of Texas before the Court in March.

“This is a great victory not just for Texans, but for all Americans,” Attorney General Abbott said. “With this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has delivered a clear message that the Texas Ten Commandments can be displayed on public grounds in recognition of the historical role they have played in the foundation of this country and its laws.”

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In finding that the Texas display does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, Rehnquist also noted: “According to Judeo-Christian belief, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai. But Moses was a lawgiver as well as a religious leader.”

Abbott continued: “Our state and nation have a rich history of acknowledging the influence of religion in our public places, buildings and documents, and I am pleased the Court has used Texas as a model for how that can be accomplished within the parameters of the First Amendment.”

Justice Breyer, saying the Ten Commandments convey both a “secular moral message” and a “historical message,” also noted in his concurring opinion: “(T)he Establishment Clause does not compel the government to purge from the public sphere all that in any way partakes of the religious. ... Such absolutism is not only inconsistent with our national traditions ... but would also tend to promote the kind of social conflict the Establishment Clause seeks to avoid.

The Texas Legislature accepted the six-foot granite monument in 1961 from the Fraternal Order of Eagles to commend their work with youth. The monument was placed halfway between the Capitol and the state Supreme Court building to signify the secular impact the Ten Commandments have had on the state’s legal institutions. It is one of 17 memorials that adorn the grounds of the Texas Capitol and celebrate various people, events, and ideals important to the culture and diversity of Texas.

The Ten Commandments monument sat unchallenged on the Capitol grounds for more than 40 years, until Thomas Van Orden sued in 2002 claiming it was an unconstitutional establishment of religion. The federal district court rejected his argument, ruling the state’s reasons for placing the monument were secular, and thus constitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit also upheld the monument in 2003, and Van Orden appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

Displays of the Ten Commandments appear on public property across the country and throughout the nation’s capital, including the U.S. Supreme Court building, the National Archives and the Library of Congress.