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case of the public display of the Ten Commandments in front of courthouses and the sociological aspects of the cases. Introduction “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” As I’m sure that many of you know, these are the first ten words of the US Bill of Rights. In recent years, especially with the rise of religious extremists into power, there have been greater debates than ever on issues relating to the first amendment and the United States’ policy of separation of church and state. These ten words have been fiercely debated in an effort to reach a national consensus of what exactly the Framers of the Constitution meant by this. Some court cases that have risen out of this debate include taking “Under God” out of the pledge of allegiance and taking “In God We Trust” off of our money. But the most recent cases about religion and the first amendment have been the cases about taking Ten Commandments displays and other religious symbols away from public and government buildings. More specifically, taking them away from Court houses. Cases such as these are helping to rip an already divided nation even further apart. Body of Speech A. The Cases 1. According to articles from Wikipedia.com, McCreary County vs. ACLU Kentucky and Van Orden vs. Perry were the first cases of this year about this topic. 2. In the case of McCreary County vs. ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union sued two Kentucky counties that posted readily visible copies of the Ten Commandments. Displays around the Commandments include smaller, historical documents that portrayed religious references in order to signify religion’s historical importance on the creation of government. After originally deciding that the Ten Commandments is indeed a religious document, the counties revised the exhibit. A new posting was created and called “The Foundations of American Law and Government Display.” This new display consists of nine documents that are equal in size and therefore, will be viewed as secular. The display that shows the Ten Commandments quotes them from the “King James Version” of the Christian Bible and explains to viewers that they have had a very large amount of influence on the formation of Western law and the Nation itself. Alongside the Commandments are displays of the lyrics to the StarSpangled Banner and the Declaration of Independence, along with their own historical significance and legal impact explained. 3. The other case that was argued alongside the McCreary County vs. ACLU case was the Van Orden vs. Perry case. In this case, the issue was whether a monument of the Ten Commandments at the Texas State Capitol in Austin violated the first Amendment. This monument was six feet high and three feet wide. This monument was donated to the State of Texas by a civic organization called the Fraternal Order of Eagles. This organization also paid for the cost of placing the monument on the public office
grounds. The monument was actually placed between the State Capitol and State Supreme Court buildings. This monument was one of seventeen monuments and 21 historical markers in this location. After this case was heard, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit declared that the monument was constitutional, on the grounds that it contained both a religious and secular message. After this ruling was made, the decision was argued to the Supreme Court by a man named Erwin Chemerinsky. The Court held the same ruling, that the monument was constitutional. The McCleary County vs. ACLU decision was also argued on that day and the verdict was the same for this case, too. B. Religious Heritage 1. Now, there are many valid points on both sides of these arguments. The main argument of the people that would like to keep the monuments around is that each monument portrays the religion’s specific reference to our culture. To deny that religion has had an affect on the world is to deny history and heritage. 2. The opposing argument is that allowing the monuments to stay is unconstitutional and discriminates against anyone who is not a part of one of the three Abrahamic Religions. Many of the people who support this argument have no religion and/or believe that with all that we now know, we can create and have functional societies without religion. Having these monuments signify that only one religion is “OK” to the US government. 3. These cases leave us to question. Should religion, though not officially a part of our government, be recognized as playing a major role in our society? And furthermore, if our society is represented by a few specific religions, what happens to those who are left out? 4. Now the sociological perspective of religion is not as concerned with beliefs and practices as it is with societal development. This perspective seems to make an effort to explain religion in terms of social forces rather than personal, psychological, or spiritual factors. In both the East and the West, religion and religious beliefs are at the core of every society. Very few, if any at all societies have ever lived without religion or religions. This is because religion, historically, has been used to express concepts and ideas that were fundamental to the culture that followed or created them. It has played a major role to societies both politically and therapeutically. To quote the “Think Twice” book, it is indeed “A Spiritual Supermarket.” C. Today 1. Today, the process of secularization and theoretical scientific developments has weakened the influence of religion. But these things have not resulted in a decline of religion, rather a decline of religious authority. And though there is less influence and a decline in authority, religion is still playing its role in our government. We live in a society that is theoretically governed by the people. In recent voting polls, results show that voters consider the religious beliefs and faith of a candidate to be an important factor in an election. The polls also show that, regardless of the religious extremism of the current administration, most voters believe that religion should have an even greater influence on
government policies. Therefore, if voters have the power to vote these people in, trying to take monuments away from the front of court houses seems small in comparison. Why worry about a piece of brick that means nothing to you when someone’s daughter just got raped and can’t get an abortion because it’s illegal? Conclusion Religion from the sociological perspective has always been a refuge for societies in times of crisis. As we have seen ourselves, it has been used as a tool of good in some societies and a tool for evil in others. This confusion is why the question of where we should put the dividing line between church and state still remains unanswered. While these two court cases may have been resolved, there will be far more to come.