The U.S. Supreme Court, after ducking Ten Commandments cases for 25 years and refusing earlier this month to dive into the controversy over former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's monument in Montgomery, agreed last week to consider disputes over Ten Commandments displays on government property in Texas and Kentucky.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has testified to his strong belief in Christ, argues that "the Ten Commandments are undoubtedly a sacred religious text, but they are also a foundational document in the development of Western legal codes and culture"-and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a year ago agreed with him.
Mr. Abbott has framed his defense of the Texas monument, a six-foot-tall red granite monolith located about 75 feet from the state Capitol building in Austin, in a way that can appeal to secularists. He notes that the Fraternal Order of Eagles donated the monument in 1961 and that lawmakers accepted it "to commend the Eagles for their efforts in fighting juvenile delinquency-a constitutionally secular reason in the court's eyes."
Mr. Abbott also points out that hanging inside the Capitol building is the seal of the Republic of Mexico, which "contains an eagle holding a serpent in its mouth, perched on a cactus that grows from a rock surrounded by water. A representation of Aztec mythology, this religious display is neither Jewish nor Christian, but is an acknowledgment of the historical and cultural contributions made by people of differing faiths."
The Kentucky suit arose after officials in two Kentucky counties, McCreary and Pulaski, presented the Ten Commandments as a central text for understanding American law and history. They hung framed copies of the Commandments in their courthouses and then added documents such as the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. But that wasn't good enough for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the display of these documents constituted an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
Some 8,000 cases reach the U.S. Supreme Court each year. The justices agree to hear about 80 of them, often when appeals courts are contradicting each other, as in this situation. Oral arguments on the Ten Commandments cases probably will come in February, with a decision sometime before July. Personalities as well as principles will intrigue onlookers: The Texas battle, for example, will pit the wheelchair-bound Mr. Abbott against Thomas Van Orden, a former criminal defense lawyer who is now an Austin homeless man and is already enjoying press lionization.
As Mr. Van Orden told Texas Monthly, "Even a guy who sleeps under a bush has a duty and right to fight for his constitutional rights and make history. It's a great country, isn't it?"