Religion is on display in many public settings in America. Religious individuals and faith communities often express their religious beliefs and practices beyond their homes and beyond their houses of worship. Such activity is largely protected from governmental interference. The government, however, is constitutionally bound to remain neutral toward religion, limiting the circumstances under which religious messages can be displayed on government property.
For the BJC and many others who are concerned about religious freedom for all people, this constitutional issue is also one of fundamental fairness. We should not ask government to promote our religion if we would not want it to promote the religion of others. The Establishment Clause prohibition that keeps government from promoting or endorsing religion leaves religion free to flourish according to the power of its message and the voluntary efforts of those who promote it. The government should not make religious decisions, favor a particular religion, or promote religion in general. To the contrary, it should provide an environment where religion can flourish on its own merits.
As the U.S. Supreme Court’s Ten Commandments display decisions demonstrate, the constitutionality of a religiously themed display on government property will be determined based upon the overall context of the display and the message conveyed. Regardless of the constitutional questions such cases raise, religious displays on government property also raise ethical and theological concerns. The debate is not about whether the Commandments teach sound theology or wholesome ethics. The question is, who is the right teacher: politicians or parents, public officials or pastors, government committees or families?
Examples of religious displays that have been litigated as violations of the Establishment Clause include Ten Commandments monuments on government property and religious symbols recognizing certain holidays.
For more on this topic:
Read about the BJC’s work opposing government-sponsored displays of Ten Commandments monuments