Federal File

September 03, 2003 1 min read

Monumental Decision

“Roy’s Rock” was moved last week, but the weight of the dispute over the Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama Judicial Building is likely to shift to Washington in the next few months.

The rock was installed by Chief Justice Roy S. Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court two years ago, and it has generated controversy ever since. It was finally moved out of public view on Aug. 27 after both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, held that the monument was an endorsement of religion that violated the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition of a government establishment of religion.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court on Aug. 20 declined Chief Justice Moore’s request for an emergency stay of the lower-court rulings, the high court will get another chance to get involved this fall when it reviews the formal Alabama appeal.

Educators may take an interest in the case because the question of displaying the commandments has come up in some districts.

One Supreme Court decision has gotten little mention during the debate. An Associated Press story about Roy’s Rock even suggested that the high court had never ruled on displaying the Ten Commandments in public buildings.

But in 1980, in Stone v. Graham, the court voted 5- 4 to strike down a Kentucky law that required the posting of the Ten Commandments in each public school classroom. The commandments are “undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths,” the majority said in its unsigned opinion.

In a dissent only for himself, then-Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist said he would uphold the Kentucky law because “the Ten Commandments have had a significant impact on the development of secular legal codes of the Western world.”

Mr. Rehnquist, of course, is now chief justice of the United States.

—Mark Walsh