Supreme Court Ten Commandments Rulings Fail to Clarify Church-State Controversies


Alexandria, Va. – June 27, 2005 – Today’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings on displays of the Ten Commandments on public property fail to clarify church-state controversies that have plagued school districts nationwide, according to the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

“We are concerned that the Court’s lack of clarity will continue to leave our school children at the mercy of litigious groups, on both sides of the issue, that love to make public schools their favorite legal battleground,” said Anne L. Bryant, NSBA executive director. 

The Court struck down the display of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky courthouses (McCreary County, Ky. v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky) but upheld a Ten Commandments monument near the Texas state capitol in Austin (Van Orden v. Perry). 

"These decisions tell us that the Court will continue to approach these issues on a case by case basis, rather than giving school districts clear and consistent guidance,” said Julie Underwood, NSBA general counsel.  “I am afraid that confusion in schools will continue.”

In an amicus brief , NSBA had urged the Court to adopt a single test that focuses on a judicial analysis of whether the government action in question endorses religion. Without a consistent standard, the brief argued, public schools will continue to be dragged into court by groups on both sides of these divisive issues.

“The justices issued 10 opinions in these two cases, which will only add confusion to the standards set out by the previous 100 opinions they have raised in the last 33 years,” Underwood said.  “If the Supreme Court itself struggles this much with these issues, just imagine the challenge for America’s school boards.”

The NSBA amicus brief  had previously noted that school leaders are forced to rely on unclear and even conflicting judicial guidance in church-state issues.

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Additional Resources:

The ruling in Mcreary County v. ACLU is available at: 
The ruling in Van Orden v. Perry is available at:

NSBA's Amicus Brief:  
McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky

more NSBA Press Releases 
Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments. NSBA Urges High Court to Clarify Religion Issues, 3/2/2005

NSBA Asks Supreme Court for Clarity On Religion in Schools: Make Funding Count Toward Student Achievement Not Legal Fees, 12/20/2004

NSBA Legal Clips
Supreme Court case on public displays of the Ten Commandments could overhaul the legal standard of church-state balance

American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky v. McCreary County, Kentucky, 354 F.3d 438 (6th Cir. 2003)

NSBA Selected Publications on Religion

Help for the Holidays:  Where the Courts Haven't Spoken, Let Community Consensus Be A Guiding Voice, American School Board Journal, cover story, December 2003 

Finding Common Ground- A Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools

Leadership Insider, Friends of the Court, NSBA Amicus Briefs Filed in 2004-2005, pgs 6-8 on Religion

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