Does This Violate Separation of Church and State?

I’m not saying I was offended at all but I found it curious that there would be a cross and the ten commandments (I think) on a memorial outside a Federal Court. Is this unusual?

58 Comment

  • yes that is a violation of church n state. america was founded on the ideas of the enlightenment which was a reaction against religious dogma. also the foundation of our laws comes the roman republic/empire which was not christian for most of its history.

    • “America was founded on the ideas of the enlightenment …against religious dogma”

      B.S. !!!

      -what cheap 2010 revisionist B.S. !!!

      Facts:

      The United States of America was founded against a British monarch, King George III

      by 56 representatives of the 13 colonies/states gathered in 1776

      all of them, yes, Deists/Christians

      later gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to establish a Constitution

      based on Judeo-Christian beliefs and values so as to be governed by law and not by men

      “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence”.

      We “pledge allegiance to the flag… and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God…”

      “In God We Trust”

      • in god we trust, added in 1864.
        under god, added in 1954.
        i’m sorry, were you just talking about the founding…?

        thomas jefferson wrote numerous tracts condemning christians and christianity (but god fearing americans don’t want to accept this, so we don’t talk about it).

        ben franklin was most likely, by historian accounts, an atheist.

        you say, all of them deists/christians? i say all of them slave owners. should we bring that back too?

        keep your cults and superstitions out of my government.

        also i’d just like to mention that my “captcha” phrase is ‘knavery conference’. perhaps that’s a sign from god.

        • “to establish a Constitution based on Judeo-Christian beliefs and values”

          Yes – I remember clearly the part in the Judeo-Christian bible where they talked about separation of powers, and the re;resentative government – especially the parts where they guaranteed freedom of religion and the right to carry guns – that’s lifted word for word right from the bible, no?

        • actually, slavery IS condoned in the bible, Jesus even gives instructions on how you should treat your slaves.

        • I agree 100%… well said. From an atheist in Baptist country… South Carolina!

      • What about the Treaty of Tripoli of 1796:

        “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”

        • Thanks, I was hoping somebody would bring up the Treaty of Tripoli. Saves me the trouble of googlin’ the proper phrasing.

          I would generally say the religious stuff has no place in a gov’t space like this, but it’s PARTICULARLY troubling when it’s the christian commandments at the door of a court building.

          • Christian commandments? I thought they commandments are part of the Old Testament? Or are you making a joke?

        • authored by john adams, if i’m not mistaken.

      • america was the first country ever to separate church and state, if thats not an affront against religion then i dont what is. revisionist history is what you are guilty of sir.

        captcha = the gnarly

      • Sorry my friend.. read these quotes from Jefferson
        http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/quotes/jefferson.htm

        Here is a gem:

        “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” – Thomas Jefferson

        Religion is a plague on the world.

  • It’s sepAration guys, not sepEration

  • I think the answer is probably not. After McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky and Van Orden v. Perry, which were decided at the same tome. Basically a Ten Commandments monument erected on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol did not violate the Establishment Clause, because the monument, when considered in context, conveyed a historic and social meaning rather than an intrusive religious endorsement.

  • Actually pretty common in older Federal buildings… The GAO HQ elevators have great art deco (I think) murals with some pretty heavy religious motifs. Crosses, commandments etc…

  • Doesn’t it make a difference if the Christian scenes are part of a series of motifs to show a historical timeline? With the other scenes, maybe that’s what’s going on. It’s telling a story of western civilization.

  • The Ten Commandments in the context of a courthouse can also be said to commemorate one of humanity’s first set of written laws. What’s on the other side of the monument? I see it’s in the bigger picture, but can’t make it out. Do you have a close-up of that, as well? I’d say it depends on what else is around and on display and what the intent was of the person or group placing the monument. If it’s to celebrate Christianity, yes, that’s wrong on the courthouse grounds. If it’s the Ten Commandments and the Magna Carta, and the Constitution, that’s a different story.

    • The ten commandments are not that great of laws to begin with. The first few start with the arrogant need of a vain deity to be worshiped and end with what is essentially a though crime. Just thinking about wanting something is wrong?

      These are nothing but bronze age rules written by illiterate misogynistic and bigoted sheep herders. They have no place in modern civilized society other than a cultural curiosity like the code of Hammurabi or other ancient relics.

  • ah

    Here’s a fuller picture of one side:

    http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/trylon.html

    And a blurb describing the art:
    “Sculptor C. Paul Jennewein received the commission for the building’s most significant artwork. He chose Somes Sound granite for the trylon (an obelisk-like form, triangular in plan), which depicts deep figural reliefs in a vaguely cubist style. Two sides represent guarantees offered by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. The third side exhibits the seal of the United States, with portions of the Preamble of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence inscribed.”

    BTW, the US Supreme Court has the 10 commandments (among many other things) depicted on the ceiling of the main courtroom).
    http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/court-history.html

  • It’s kind of hard to come along over 200 years later and say “Oh no this wasn’t what the Constitution intended even though it’s been done ever since.”

    This piece should be taken down because it’s simply bad art.

  • Judaism and Christianity are without a doubt part of the foundation and narrative of the usa and as someone else said, western civilization in general. if we can’t incorporate some of their mythology into art work, what good is freedom? we have a national cathedral. we swear oaths on the bible. we grew out of the civilizations of europe above all other places. our nation and even our language is intertwined with these concepts.

    that said, me whats unusual about the piece, is the skill in execution of the carving but the utter lack of interest in the design itself. and a cross with the 10 commandments? wtf? thats like saying Prometheus stole the fire of zeus along with the star spangled banner.

    our code of laws owe more to Hammurabi than the 10 commandments anyway.

    • Dude why do you keep bringing up the National Cathedral? It’s not part of the US Government. I could open a head shop and call it the National Head Shop – and that wouldn’t make it part of the US Government (or it’s heritage) either.

      As for swearing an oath – maybe you should learn a little bit about jurisprudence and legal history before flapping your yap. Swearing an oath on the bible (or whatever personal book one wants to swear upon) has to do with personal belief that if one lies one will be punished according to one’s belief system. Even the Constitution – that wonderful document that you claim is based on “Judeo-Christian values” ALWAYS gives an alternative a non-religious “Affirmation” alternative to swearing an oath – recognizing (in a way that Judeo-Christian tradition most decidely does not) that the rights of non-Believers are the equal of believers.

      The esamples that you’re using to establish a point of “Judeo-Christian heritage” supremecy are really not well-thought out (not surprising considering your premise) and don’t make your point at all.

  • dmf – Yes, a slavery tableau should be included along with the religious symbols as part of our history if we want to be historically correct, not to mention fair! Wherever this “religion as part of our history” argument has allowed a religion-themed object on public property, a slavery shrine should be added.

  • Aw PoP, “look whatcha’ done gone and did!” Baiting people again :-) Good read, love it!

  • The Romans were very fond of crucifying. This could literally be anybody. The chances of this being a reference to Jesus are like 1 in 1,000,000. Stop assuming.

    This city needs more Spartacus monuments, not less!

    • it might be in reference to that re-adapted “The Exorcist” set in Plymouth, ma, right next to the pez candy factory

    • how about Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Invisible Pink Unicorn!? Don’t Leave them out!

  • If we’re going to talk about the constitution, we should probably be clear about what it says. The First Amendment says the “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The “wall of separation between church and state” metaphor was found in Jefferson’s writings, not the Constitution. And Jefferson, if you recall, wrote the Declaration of Independence; Madison is largely responsible for writing the Constitution, although this is an Amendment and I’m not sure who can claim primary authorship (although I’m sure it can be found on the internet somewhere).

    The Constitution doesn’t really command that there be “separation of church and state,” just that there be no law respecting an establishment of religion. Surely this text prohibits laws that fall short of declaring there be a national religion, but it cannot possibly be read to prohibit any relationship between the government and any religion.

    Do I think separation of church and state is a useful principle? Absolutely. I’d probably prefer my courthouses and federal buildings be scrubbed of religious references, but this particular example seems pretty benign to me. As a constitutional matter, it’s completely non-controversial, especially when viewed in context.

    • Madison also wrote extensively in support of the separation of church and state, but more to the point, the Supreme Court has interpreted the first amendment as establishing separation between church and state (see Reynolds v. U.S.)

      • The Reynolds opinion merely quoted a passage from a letter written by Jefferson for the Wall of Separation metaphor, which is why I mentioned Jefferson. I don’t know anything about Madison’s feelings toward the separation of church and state, although I don’t doubt what you’ve written. The Supreme Court’s quoting of a letter by a founding father (who had no domestic role in government at the time – he was in France) cannot possibly represent the correct interpretation of the text of the First Amendment. (See Rehnquist’s dissent in Wallace v. Jafree).

        Much ink has been spilled about whether Rehnquist’s dissent itself is historically accurate and, although I’ve read some of that scholarship, I haven’t read enough to form a strong opinion. My overarching point is that we should be talking about the TEXT of the First Amendment, which doesn’t mention a wall or separation. Maybe the Wall Metaphor is a useful interpretive tool. But, at best, a tool is all it is.

        When people talk about the Constitution, they should think about what the TEXT means before they do anything else.

        • I respectfully disagree. The majority opinion in Reynolds didn’t “merely quote” Jefferson. It said that Jefferson’s interpretation of the First Amendment “may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured.” It established a precedent for our understanding of the First Amendment that no court since (Renquist notwithstanding) has not dared to overturn. You may disagree with Reynolds, but you cannot disagree that it is the law of the land.

    • Actually, as there are three versions of the Ten Commandments – the Jewish, Roman Catholic and heretically blasphemous/Protestant (sorry, the nuns and priests just burned that one into me) – by selecting any one version for a court’s artwork, it could be argued that there is a violation of the First Amendment, because one version has been selected as the “right” one.

      As for our Founding Fathers, who grew up hearing about the still relatively recent Wars of the Reformation, they were smart enough to realize the inherent problems of intertwining the civil government with any specific religious lifestyle choice. The enforcement of othodoxy throughout Europe led to thousands of dead, so they were brilliant in deciding that the First Amendment should ensure that the state was distinct from any church.

      It is not surprising that they came up with this idea – they had already largely prospered in a set of colonies that, if they didn’t have full religious freedom, had enough room for the adherent of any one religion to find a place of comfort. What is interesting, given the current political environment, where adherents of some specific religious sects claim supremacy among all citizens, is that we have to remember, whatever religions the Founding Fathers belonged to, none of them were Mormons, Southern Baptists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assembly of God or a member of any of the “nondenomenational evangelical churches” that have sprouted in the interventing 250 years.

  • Derek,
    James Madison, the author of the Constitution, had such a strong belief in the separation that he kept his portraits of religious leaders in one wing of his house and political leaders in the other.

    Also, besides the first amendment, there’s another provision: there shall be no religious test for public office. That’s in the constitution itself.

    The ironic thing is one of the biggest advocates for separation was the Baptist church. back then adherents were the minority and oppressed in various states. those who forget history….

  • Love this! I can come here and read this bigoted anti-christian blather on basically a weekly basis these days. You guys are getting really predictable! Isn’t there something else you can point your hate-speech at? like… I don’t know, something else conservative like gun rights or John McCain or something? Mix it up!

    • There is little mix here, TonyS.

      The first comment at 9:48 PM about enlightenment is purely delusional and revisionist.

      The anti-American, anti-Christian tirade that follows the second comment at 6:03 AM is quite revealing of this group assembled here on PoP, disappointing and sad as well when you consider how divorced so many of us modern day Americans are from the remarkable and noble history of this country from its founding to the present day.

      This group seems to be more lofty citizens of the world than well grounded American citizens with much too little respect for our American founders and predecessors and especially those that fought and died, often very young, defending this country and the very freedom we enjoy here today with all these self destructive ideas that do more to undermine the very ground we stand on as Americans in a very dangerous world.

      “Does this violate separation of church and state” is an oft exploited and overused dysphemism.

      As much as I support it within reason, separation of church and state does not exist;

      not in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution or in the Bill of Rights.

      It is and remains an extrapolation well exploited upon, repeated and repeated enough, and so often as to make people think mistakenly that it has to do with the founding, when it clearly and undoubtedly does not all.

      Yes, this thread and more in particular this crowd can be truly sad and disappointing.

      • Prince Of Petworth

        “Does this violate separation of church and state” is a dysphemism?

        I had to look it up:
        dysphemism: the substitution of a disagreeable, offensive, or disparaging expression for an agreeable or inoffensive one; also : an expression so substituted

        • POP, I too was curious and found this rather good explanation. “When we think of euphemisms, we think of words that are substituted because their connotations are less distressing than the words they replace. In slang you frequently have the opposite phenomenon, dysphemism, where a relatively neutral word is replaced with a harsher, more offensive one. Such as calling a cemetery a ‘boneyard.’ Referring to electrocution as ‘taking the hot seat’ would be another. . . . Even more dysphemistic would be ‘to fry.’”

          More help here:
          When applied to people, animal names are usually dysphemisms: coot, old bat, pig, chicken, snake, and bitch, for example.

      • well said.

        I think it is important to remember that the thought/opinions on this blog only represent a very small segment of the population of this country… a country which is made up mostly of open-minded people who don’t hate others based on race, religion etc. Unfortunately there are vocal minorities on both sides that ruin the discourse.

      • whats truly sad and disappointing is that you believe you have imaginary friends and you base your life around what you or others PRETEND they say .. and even more sad is that there are millions like you but few of you can even agree on what it is that you PRETEND your invisible friends actually want.

        Lets live in reality for once.

      • Honey, (Anonymous with the long tirade containing all the ill-used big words including “dysphemism” – hee hee)
        Your writing is so problematic that you should get back into school or just stick to really short sentences. It’s so bad I can’t even figure out which side of the argument you are on… “It is and remains an extrapolation well exploited upon, repeated and repeated enough, and so often as to make people think mistakenly that it has to do with the founding, when it clearly and undoubtedly does not all”. WTF?

    • Don’t you have a child molesting organization to protect?

      At least guns and McCain exist.

      • Anonymous,
        You are doing much better here – Short sentences written in the active voice. Stick to this format and proof-read, proof-read, proof-read!

        • On second thought I do not agree with the assertion that McCain exists. He is a most assuredly artificial being. But your sentences are showing improvement.

  • Definitely a violation. good catch. just imagine a big buddha or minaret in that spot people and think how you would feel. courts should be neutral ground for people of all faiths

  • Does anyone find the positioning of the religious vignettes somewhat surreal and Daliesque? I think the proper solution is the addition of more reliefs above and below. Secular things like an ice cream sunday or an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with a potato hood ornament, plus DC things like a rat and a gun would suffice.(Oh nevermind, not a gun, that would stir another debate about the founders and arms rights). By the way, is that a caterpillar snaking around beneath the cross?

  • I align my view on the ugly concrete relief with the Thomas Jefferson quote. The founders sometimes referred to a maker, an almighty and a god. Most of the time it was to cap or conclude a document or statement of some kind. The context was the untested and confusing emergence of democracy, a first of its kind earth. These men surely reached out for whatever divine possibilities might be there to aid in the struggle. But in their own lives many of them – Washington, Jefferson, and others, all the way to Abraham Lincoln – lived as enlightened secular humanists. This is why it’s wrong to characterize our nation as founded on Christian values. Religious freedom and separation of church and state were the abiding principles that comprised the body of those documents that were embellished with religiosities. In other words, just because I say God Bless You when you sneeze, doesn’t make me Tammy Faye Baker.

  • In a previous PoP post, not too long ago, the front facade of The American Legion Building on 16th & K Streets was featured and pictured.

    On that facade are inscribed the words, “God and Country”; -three words that used to mean something for soldiers and civilians alike, three words that used to be the mantra of our civics and social studies classes with our history and a basis of American virtue and our American culture.

    The comments on this thread go a long way in revealing today’s generation of Americans: brought up in the modern day pop culture of television, consumed daily with their on-line computers, and spoon fed graduates of an enlightenment education with a contrived revision of history (“Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln were enlightened secular humanists”). This frame of mind undermines the very ground they live on with a creed of deceit and sloth that believes in neither God nor country.

    Instilled with a huge false sense of entitlement, extreme environmentalism and equality is their religion, and any fidelity to country is remote and waning.

    What’s sad, disappointing and truly illuminating is how this enlightenment left wallows in failure and denial, is consumed in the torrid history of slavery, sees all of life through the prism of race, and immersed in guilt is endlessly fault finding in our nation’s history finding inequality and injustice in everything under the sun no matter how good life is.

    -All the while professing to be so tolerant of other people, cultures, and all manner of errant human behavior and lawlessness, yet showing their true colors being so intolerant and hateful of Christians and separately the very people, from Wm Bradford and his devout Mayflower followers in 1620 to the founding of our republic in 1776 to the present day, that built and made this country from a vast wild frontier.

    Enlightenment ? Really.

    Rooted in what ?

    Extreme environmentalism, equality, and a road paved in mere good intentions to where ?

    If we don’t know where we’ve been, if we don’t where we are, if we don’t know where we’re going, any road will take us there.

    Look around you and the relative comfort, environment, and more importantly the freedom of so many choices you live with in life. Protect it for yourself and your own for we could easily lose it all to those that would just as well see us not here at all.

  • …Instead of tearing it down, try building positively with gratitude and an appreciation based on truths that are self evident, not relative, upon something that exists and is good, rather than contrived and undermining the very ground you stand on ?

  • Anonymous,
    Your postings, where comprehensible, seem to be motivated and characterized by uncritical enthusiasm and extreme religious and political zeal. No one is hating on religion or undermining our forefathers. We are just trying to make you see that religious symbols aren’t appropriate next to government buildings; they belong outside religious buildings. This idea affirms the founding principles and should not frighten you so much. But after reading your further tirade of non sequiturs I agree with one of your points completely. I would just as well not see you here at all.

  • I would have preferred a bas-relief of the existential abyss on the big rock.

    By the way, anyone who thinks the Founding Fathers knew exactly what they were founding also might be susceptible to the notion that Wozniak and Jobs envisioned a bajillion aps for the Ipad when they first dipped their toe into GUI. The Founding Fathers were like the characters Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland played in those movies where they get all excited and put on a play: guileless optimism, righteous glory, and the fresh joy of sticking it to El Kingo.

    So, if we scrub our federal landscape of its Judeo-Christian symbology, is John Jay going to rise from his grave and–like a zombie mason–put it all back? Do people really wander around these marmoreal DC streets thinking, “Well, this is nice, but it would be a lot better if there were more Golgothas and tablets.”

    In the 18th century, lettered people referred to the Almighty in contracts and deeds and letters as a matter of course, for to do otherwise would have been unseemly. Not evil, just unseemly. Read some Hawthorne to learn about the evolution of our changing views of hewing to close to orthodoxy. He wrote barely two generations after the ink on the Constitution was dry.

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