Overview Unit 4 -Assignment and Individual Project
Facts of the Case
A resident of Prattville town filed a preliminary injunction for the removal of a monument erected in the town square with the Ten Commandments inscribed on its face. The resident argued that the display violated the First Amendment, which prohibited religious establishment by the government. With reference to McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky and Van Orden v. Perry case, I would rule against the resident on the argument that the monument served a valid purpose and not an effort by the state to endorse religion.
Deciding the Case
I would decide the current case based on a prior framework used by the supreme court on the McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky and Van Orden v. Perry case. Notably, in the McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky case, the supreme court ruled that displays of the ten commandments in the courthouses and public schools violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause. The decision was arrived at after a rigorous analysis of whether there was sufficient evidence that the display’s primary purpose was to advance religion. The court ruled that an observer would have concluded that the government was endorsing religion due to the nature of its positioning. In particular, the second display showed the Commandments along with other religious passages, thus creating the perception that the purpose was to advance religion (“McCreary County,” n.d.). Also, one of the statues was erected in isolation, creating the perception that a specific religion was being promoted. Based on these arguments, it was decided that the display violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause.
On the other hand, in the Van Orden v. Perry case, the court ruled in favor of the state, arguing that the Ten Commandment’s monument failed to violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Specifically, the court observed that despite the Commandments being religious, they did not violate the establishment clause. Instead, the court viewed the monument as part of the nation’s tradition of recognizing the Ten Commandments’ historical meaning (“Van Orden v. Perry,” n.d.). Unlike the previous case, the judges used a plurality approach to make the final decision in the Van Orden v. Perry case.
With reference to these two cases, I would reject the preliminary injunction filed by the resident and uphold the continued erection of the monument in the town square. My decision would be based on the provisions of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the framework used by the supreme court in similar cases. The Establishment clause of the First Amendment “prohibits the government from passing legislation to establish an official religion or preferring one religion over another” and enforces separation of church and state (“First Amendment,” n.d.). From this amendment, two questions would arise: Firstly, does the Ten Commandments monument in the town square violate the Establishment clause? Secondly, was the determination by the resident that the monument’s purpose had been to endorse specific religion sufficient for invalidation of the display?
The answer to the two questions would be No. Firstly, the erection of the monument in the town square is not a violation of the Establishment clause as a private citizen donated the display. Hence, the act by the town’s authority does not indicate an attempt by the government to endorse religion. Secondly, the determination by the resident is not sufficient for invalidation of the display as an observer would not have concluded that the government was endorsing religion. As argued by the supreme court in the McCreary County case, the monuments were invalidated because the first was in isolation, the second was displayed along other religious passages, and the third was presented as a foundation of the American law (“McCreary County,” n.d.). The nature of the display and the surrounding environment was a significant determinant of the extent an observer would perceive an attempt by the government to endorse religion.
Utilizing a similar approach in the current case, it is likely that an observer would not make the same conclusion due to the nature of the display of the monument. Notably, as the case scenario suggests, the statute was placed next to several bronze monuments of children playing with balls and leaves. The fact that the monument was not placed in isolation could imply that it was not meant to promote a specific religion. Arguably, it could have been erected to encourage some messages that are consistent with religious doctrines. Secondly, the nature of the surrounding of the monument would also be a valid argument to rule against the injunction. If the statute were displayed next to other religious passages, it would be concluded that it promoted a specific religion, as argued in the McCreary County case (“McCreary County,” n.d.). However, in this scenario, the monument was displayed next to statutes of children playing with balls and leaves, implying that there were no religious connections between them or intentions to advance a specific religion. Based on the two arguments and provisions from the previous case, I would decide to rule against the preliminary injunction by the resident.
“First Amendment” (n.d.). Legal Information Institute. Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/first_amendment
“McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky” (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved from https://www.oyez.org/cases/2004/03-1693
“Van Orden v. Perry” (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved from https://www.oyez.org/cases/2004/03-1500