WASHINGTON - Ten Commandments displays should be allowed on government property because they pay tribute to America's religious and legal history, the Supreme Court was told Wednesday, in cases that could render a new definition of the role that religion plays in the life of the nation.
"The idea of having a fence around the Ten Commandments to make clear the state has nothing to do with it, I think that is bending it too far," said acting Solicitor General Paul Clement, in arguing against a strict First Amendment wall between church and state.
David Friedman, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) who is challenging courthouse displays in Kentucky countered: "An assertion that the Ten Commandments is THE source, THE foundation of our legal system ... that is simply wrapping the Ten Commandments in the flag, and that's endorsement."
In their comments and questions from the bench, justices were reluctant to adopt a blanket ban on such displays. They struggled to formulate a clear constitutional rule that could determine the fate of thousands of religious symbols on public property around the country, including one in their own courtroom featuring Moses holding the sacred tablets.