(CNSNews.com) - The highly anticipated Supreme Court rulings on the public display of the Ten Commandments failed to resolve the issue Monday because the court sent "mixed messages," according to one display opponent.
"My interpretation is that, unfortunately, the Supreme Court has once again muddied and side-stepped the issue," Dave Silverman, communications director for American Atheists, told Cybercast News Service, following separate verdicts involving cases in Kentucky and Texas.
In its 5-4 ruling in McCreary v. ACLU, the court said framed copies of the Ten Commandments were hung at two Kentucky courthouses with overtly religious intentions, and as a result, were unconstitutional. However, the court also issued a 5-4 decision in Van Orden v. Perry, stating that a Ten Commandments monument, displayed among other monuments at the Texas State Capitol, represented neutral, legal intentions.
Silverman called the Kentucky ruling a "good verdict," but added that "the Texas case conflicts with that and they (the Supreme Court) haven't clarified the conflict ... They have allowed one thing that is blatantly religious in nature and they have disallowed almost the exact same thing because it was too blatantly religious in nature."
Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation and former Christian minister agreed. "It doesn't really settle the issue of whether the government can promote religion ... the issue will have to be revisited because basically what the court is saying is that each individual government decision has to be made locally, in context.
"The court had an opportunity to settle this thing once and for all and to remind believers that they are free to promote their views on private property. Instead they have left a big hole in the wall of separation between church and state," Barker told Cybercast News Service.
Both men saw the Texas decision as providing loopholes for the display of the Ten Commandments.
"Now religious opportunists are going to want to put up enough Magna Cartas and Declarations of Independence ... to secularize what is obviously a religious statement," Barker said. He predicted that this would be "popping up all over the country."
Silverman likened it to what he called the Three Reindeer Rule at Christmas: "If you have a nativity scene with three reindeer, automatically it becomes a non-religious statement." He insisted that secular objects surrounding a religious symbol should be given no consideration. "It's still a religious statement."
Barker spoke of what he sees as the perils of religion in public life. "Religion at its core is divisive. It divides people, it splits people. It starts wars, it starts fights. It creates in-groups versus out-groups."
He also questioned the faith of those people supporting Ten Commandment displays. "Some ... think that if you have to stoop to the level of using the government to promote your faith, then you're failing on your own. Your God isn't big enough to promote Himself. You have to use the property and machinery of the government to help you along."
The American Atheists and Freedom from Religion Foundation filed amicus briefs in both the Kentucky and Texas cases.
Texas Ten Commandments Case Pacifies Christians, Conservatives Say (June 27, 2005)
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