Secularism The Americas

Notes & Comments – Religious Artefacts Forced on Public?

4 The Review of Religions – April 2005 The US Supreme Court began hearing arguments in March 2005 about whether it is legal for the Ten Commandments to be displayed on government pro- p e r t y. In a Texas case, the court heard a challenge to a granite monument depicting the Biblical Te n Commandments that sits near the entrance to the state capital in Austin. A second case tests whether Kentucky judges went too far when they posted framed copies of the Ten Commandments on the walls of a county c o u r t h o u s e. The Commandments begin with the words, ‘I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ Followers are also told not to have ‘any graven images,’ nor ‘take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,’ and are reminded to keep the Sabbath day holy. The judges must decide whether the prominent display of the Te n Commandments at government buildings violates separation of church and state. Defenders say the displays merely acknowledge the nation’s religious heritage and the historical role of the Te n Commandments as a source of law and morality. The chal- lengers say the Biblical com- mands show the government to be endorsing religion, a violation of the freedom of religion in the 1st A m e n d m e n t ’s ban on an ‘establishment of religion.’ Because placing the Te n Commandments in front of the capital ‘conveys a powerful message’ that the government ‘is endorsing religion,’ said Duke University law professor, Erwin Co m m e n t s &Notes Religious Artefacts ‘forced’ on public? 5The Review of Religions – April 2005 C h e m e r i n s k y, on behalf of Thomas Van Orden, a homeless Texan who sued to have the monument removed. ‘This is a sacred and solemn text. These are G o d ’s words to God’s followers.’ ‘It is a symbol that the gov- ernment derives its authority from God,’ he said. ‘That’s what this is about. Our laws are derived from God.’ The hearing has sparked a vigorous debate between Christian conservatives and secu- larists. It also raises issues about the thousands of other religious symbols that appear in public p r o p e r t y. But where does one draw the line? Can a Santa Claus or Christmas tree be put up in a state building? Does a Santa Claus or a Christmas tree have any religious roots? This is a complicated and tricky situation, premised on the ideology of Church and State and its separation and the creation and maintaining a secular state. Christianity does play a very positive role in mainstream America. The United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence were written by mainstream Christians. The suc- cess of the country lies not on the Christian or religious values derived therefrom, but keeping those values in check. The United States Government does not promote excessive entanglement with religion. The Government is not authorised to promote religion and does not encourage the states to do so either. The issue regarding enforcement of ‘pra- yers’ in the public school system was raised some time back. It was concluded that in the public school system there would be a few moments of silence everyday, and the option remained open to those who want to seek solace in those few moments as opposed to those who do not. Currently therefore, any one religion cannot be enforced in the public school system, but the right is not taken away from those who chose to observe those few moments. F u r t h e r, to stress the point of Separation of Church and State, lies the notion of no religion playing a dominant role in NOTES AND COMMENTS