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Religious Establishment Clause of First Amendment Report

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Updated: Jun 7th, 2021

Introduction

The Constitution of the United States is the key legal document of the country that establishes principles that have to be upheld by law. Breaches of the Constitution are relatively common, particularly with regards to the Amendments that state people’s rights. However, in cases involving breaches of the Constitution, it is usually up to the court to decide whether or not the event or behavior constituted a breach. This can be done based on similar precedents in accordance with the procedure. The present case requires careful consideration since there is an alleged breach of the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and there were two previous precedents with different outcomes.

Facts of the Case

The case occurred in 2018 in the town of Prattville, Alabama. At the time, one of the town’s citizens donated a monument, which included an inscription of the 10 Commandments on its face, to the local government. The monument was placed in the town square, which is also home to other monuments, including statues of children playing with balls and leaves. After the monument was erected, one of the town’s residents filed a preliminary injunction demanding that the monument is removed. The claimant argued that the monument violated the prohibition of the Religious Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Analysis of the Case

In order to make an informed decision, it is necessary to take into account two factors. First of all, the judge is required to evaluate whether or not the selected clause of the Constitution applies to the present case. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from passing laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion (Hamilton & McConnell, n.d.). Evidently, the clause does not explicitly prevent local governments from erecting monuments that represent religious values and beliefs. However, according to Hamilton and McConnell (n.d.), this clause could be applied to government-sponsored or government-owned religious symbols, such as monuments. This is because such religious symbols are identified with the government, and thus it can be argued that the government aids in the establishment of a particular religion indirectly.

The Ten Commandments are widely perceived to be a religious symbol because they are derived from the Bible and represent the values and beliefs associated with the Christian faith. Since the monument was donated to the city by one of its residents, it can also be identified as a government-owned symbol. Therefore, based on the theoretical application of the Constitution, the chosen case violates the Religious Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Secondly, it is also necessary to take into account court precedents related to the selected case. There were two major cases identified in connection with this clause: the case of Van Orden v. Perry, 545 U.S. 677 (2005) and the case of McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky, 545 U.S. 844 (2005). Both of these cases involve monuments containing inscriptions of the Ten Commandments. Reviewing the facts of the two cases and the actions taken by the courts can assist in deciding the chosen case.

In the first case, Thomas Van Orden argued that the monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol building violated the Religious Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it represented an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The majority of the judges (5-4) ruled that “the monument served a valid secular purpose and would not appear to a reasonable observer to represent a government endorsement of religion” (Oyez, 2005b, para. 1). In the second case, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the counties of Kentucky for placing framed copies of the Ten Commandments in public schools and courthouses. Similarly, the claimants argued that these actions constituted a governmental endorsement of religion, thus violating the Constitution. Here, the majority of the judges ruled that “an observer would have concluded that the government was endorsing religion” (Oyez, 2005b, para. 3), which was the basis for satisfying the claim. The parts of the cases cited above can be used to make a decision in the present case because they indicate the judgment should be based on whether or not a reasonable observer would consider the monument as a religious endorsement. Hamilton and McConnell (n.d.) mention that this reasoning is called an endorsement test and it has been widely applied to similar cases in the United States.

The Decision

Based on the facts of the case, the related Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the selected precedents, the monument violates the Constitution. On the one hand, it can be defined as a government-owned religious symbol, which makes the Religious Establishment Clause applicable here. On the other hand, the endorsement test yields a positive result since the monument was erected in the town square among statues containing no religious messages. This means that a reasonable observer would most likely perceive the monument as a sign of endorsement of the Christian religion by the government, which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

References

Hamilton, M. A., & McConnell, M. (n.d.). The establishment clause. Web.

Oyez. (2005a). McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky. Web.

Oyez. (2005b). Van Orden v. Perry. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Religious Establishment Clause of First Amendment." June 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/religious-establishment-clause-of-first-amendment/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Religious Establishment Clause of First Amendment'. 7 June.

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