Summary of Van Orden v. Perry
Citation: 545 U.S. 677
Relevant Facts: Thomas Van Orden filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas in federal district court. He claimed that an erected Ten Commandments monument, which was prominent on the state capitol building grounds, symbolized an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the government, in direct contradiction of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
Issues: The legal question presented was whether the monument did in fact violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Holding: The Supreme Court held that the presence of the monument did not violate the Establishment Clause.
Reasoning: The Court reasoned that the establishment clause did not bar the monument on the grounds of the Texas state capitol building. Instead, the monument was merely a part of the country’s historical tradition of recognizing the Ten Commandments, something that can be witnessed or at least understood when looking at various common laws, the way in which the judicial system is set up, etc.
Dissent: Justice Stevens’ dissent was predicated on the argument that the display “has no purported connection to God’s role in the formation of Texas or the founding of our Nation [. . .] ” Consequently, it could not be protected because it was a sacred rather than secular piece of work. Stevens asserted that because the monument is one of Judeo-Christian significance there is no way to get around the religious significance.
Conclusion: This case was significant because the Court found that the introduction of religious paraphernalia itself is not unconstitutional if it reflects a point of clarification or symbolism that is inherent to American history. In such a case, it is merely an historical artifact rather than a religious symbol.