Several days ago Ben called attention to the unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court regarding religious displays on public property. That decision may be the beginning of a much needed clarification of at least one difficult issue at the juncture of church and state. Today, at Christianity Today's web site John Witte explains the implications of the decision in "Keeping the Commandments"
...In last week's case, Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, the court treated the Ten Commandments monument as a form of permissible government speech. A government "is entitled to say what it wishes" and may select certain views in favor of others, Justice Alito wrote for the court. It may express its views by putting up its own tax-paid monuments or by accepting monuments donated by private parties whose contents it need not fully endorse. In this case, city officials had earlier accepted a Ten Commandments monument on grounds that it reflected the "[a]esthetics, history, and local culture" of the city. The free-speech clause does not give a private citizen a "heckler's veto" over that old decision. Nor does it compel the city to accept every privately donated monument once it has accepted the first. Government speech is simply "not bound by the free-speech clause," the court concluded, or subject to judicial second-guessing under the First Amendment. Government officials are "accountable to the electorate" for their speech, and they will be voted out of office if their views cause offense. ....Keeping the Commandments | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction
...[T]he case turned on the characterization of the Ten Commandments monument as a form of government speech. That trumped countervailing concerns about religious establishments or private speech rights. And that shifted the judgment about the propriety of maintaining such religious monuments from the courts to the people.
This is better reasoning than the court has offered in its earlier cases on religious symbols in public life. In some of these earlier cases, the court had allowed religious symbols and ceremonies to withstand First Amendment scrutiny only if they were bleached and bland enough to constitute a permissible form of "ceremonial deism." ....
The Pleasant Grove court wisely forgoes such arguments with fresh new arguments from democracy and tradition that do not deny or dilute the religious qualities of these symbols. The court leaves it up to elected government officials to reflect and represent the views of the people, including their religious views. It leaves it to the people to debate and decide whether the government's representation of their views is adequate or outmoded. Courts will step in only if the government coerces citizens to accept these religious views, or if the government's speech violates privacy, endangers society, or violates the Constitution. .... [more]