Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



The United States Supreme Court confronted the issue of a classroom display of the Ten Commandments almost 25 years ago in the case of Stone v. Graham. In that case, the Court struck down a Kentucky statute that required the posting of the Ten Commandments in all public school classrooms. In a per curiam opinion, the Court summarily reversed a decision of the Supreme Court of Kentucky and concluded that the statute violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause because it had no secular purpose. The outcomes of recent judicial decisions considering the constitutionality of the display of the Ten Commandments have not been uniform. While the courts have all applied similar legal standards, considering both whether the government had a secular purpose for its display and whether the display gave the appearance of government endorsement of religion, their analysis has been far from uniform. Courts have disagreed over a number of critical issues including how to assess government expressions of a secular purpose, how to evaluate the place of the Ten Commandments in the history of American law, how to characterize the historical context of the challenged display, and whether displaying the Ten Commandments along with other documents of secular significance legitimizes a secular purpose for the display and eliminates any risk of government endorsement of religion.

Recommended Citation

Third Virginia Commonwealth Education Law Conference: Critical Issues in Education Law and Policy 61 (2005)