Indiana Governor Frank O’Bannon had appealed to the high court to allow the exhibition of a 7-foot stone monument on the grounds of the state capital in Indianapolis.
“To deem the Ten Commandments inappropriate for a government historical display simply because it has both religious and historical import is to insist on inaccurate and incomplete public displays of history,” the state appeal read.
The Indiana branch American Civil Liberties Union sued to block the display and a lower federal court agreed, saying the monument would promote a religious purpose.
A continuing division on the Court
The decision not to hear the case leaves in place a variety of past court decisions that have allowed some religious presentations such as nativity scenes and the Ten Commandments, while limiting other clearly religious displays.
It is also the second time the court has declined to consider such a case in as many years.
In May 2001, a clearly divided court decided not to try a different case from Indiana regarding the display of the Ten Commandments outside a civic building.
In most cases, the court declines to comment on cases it has decided not to hear, but the court’s three leading conservatives took the unusual step of saying publicly that they wanted the case considered.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, writing with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said they not only wanted to hear the case, but said they found nothing wrong with the monument’s display.
“[The monument] simply reflects the Ten Commandments’ role in the development of our legal system,” Rehnquist wrote. “Indeed, a carving of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, surrounded by representations of other historical legal figures, adorns the frieze on the south wall of our courtroom.”
Despite their argument, the court voted 6 to 3 not to take up the case.