As early as 1980, the Supreme Court had banned the posting of the Ten Commandments on public school walls. Stone v. Graham But the Court continued to be pressed into making determinations about displays in other settings. Proponents for display argued that the Ten Commandments were nondenominational and were part of the historical underpinnings of America: a moral reminder of right and wrong applicable to all citizens. Opponents argued that it was an impermissible endorsement of Judeo-Christian religion.
The issue was revisited in 2005, with two highly-publicized cases before the Supreme Court. Both decisions evidenced a split court; both decisions were 5-4 rulings. In Van Orden v. Perry, the high court narrowly ruled in favor of allowing the Ten Commandments to be displayed at the Texas state capitol. But in McCreary County, Kentucky v. ACLU, the Court, again narrowly, ruled that they could not be displayed (in framed copies) at two Kentucky court houses. In the Texas case, the six-foot high granite monument of the Ten Commandments was one among several national and historical markers spread across 22 acres of the state capitol grounds. The Court noted that 40 years had passed, without challenge, since the monument was first erected in the 1960s. The Court concluded that the Texas display represented a mixed but primarily non-religious purpose.
Conversely, the framed copies of the Ten Commandments displayed inside Kentucky courthouses stemmed from a governmental effort “substantially to promote religion,” concluded the Court. (In an image that hangs above the courtroom in the Supreme Court, Moses is seen carrying the Ten Commandments. However, the tablets’ text is not shown, and he is one of many historical figures depicted, including Mohammed and Confucius.)