The facts of this case are taken from Van Orden v. Perry, a case that was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 challenging the display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol Building. The central issue in this case was whether the state is favoring religion in violation of the U.S. Constitution by having a religious monument or display on its property. Students are encouraged to read both the majority and dissenting decisions from the actual case obtain a deeper understanding of the constitutional arguments that can be made by both sides. However, students should remember that they are to argue this case as if they were appearing before the Supreme Court back in 2005. Finally, students should be aware that there was another case argued on the same day concerning a Ten Commandments display in a Kentucky courthouse. You should only focus on the Texas case, not the one from Kentucky.
FACTS: The monument being challenged is 6-feet high and 3-feet wide. It was donated to the State of Texas in 1961 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a civic organization, with the support of Cecil B. DeMille, who had directed the film The Ten Commandments. The State accepted the monument and selected a site for it based on the recommendation of the state agency responsible for maintaining the Capitol grounds. The donating organization paid the cost of erection. Two state legislators presided over the dedication of the monument.
The monument was erected on the Capitol grounds, between the Texas Capitol and Supreme Court buildings. The surrounding 22 acres (89,000 m²) contained 17 monuments and 21 historical markers commemorating the “people, ideals, and events that compose Texan identity.”
Question Presented: Does a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of a state capitol building violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which barred the government from passing laws “respecting an establishment of religion?”
- UMKC’s Exploring Constitutional Conflcits page entitled Religious Symbols in Public Places
- PRO: American Center for Law and Justice guidance on how to display religious symbols on public property.
- CON: The Freedom From Religion Foundation is one of the driving forces behind legal challenges to religious displays on government property. Its view on this provides a counter-argument.
- The Oyez Project has links to the oral arguments from both cases:
- Lynch v. Donnelly – the U.S. Supreme Court allows a display in honor of the Christmas Season in government property in Rhode Island
- County of Allegheny v. ACLU – two religious holiday displays were at issue in this case. The Court ultimately allowed one display to remain and ordered the county to remove the other display.
- Stone v. Graham – striking down a Kentucky law mandating the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools.
- see also Establishment Clause Cases and Courtroom Friezes
- NOTE – there is a close connection between issues concerning the Establishment Clause and issues concerning Freedom of Speech. Please only focus on the Establishment Clause issue in your moot.
- Petitioners Brief
- Respondents Brief
- Brief of the U.S. Solicitor General (only relevant when there are five people in your group)