Eleven years ago the Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 decision that Ten Commandments documents displayed in a government court building in Kentucky violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The same day the Supreme Court decided 5-4 that a Ten Commandments monument on the property of a government court building in Texas was constitutional. Justice Breyer voted differently on the two similar disputes because he concluded that the monument in Texas was more secular than the framed wall displays in Kentucky for various trivial reasons, including that the Texas monument was one of more than a dozen different monuments on the court building property. Justice Stevens dissented from that second decision, Van Orden v. Perry, arguing that the display "has no purported connection to God's role in the formation of Texas or the founding of our Nation ..." and therefore could not be protected on the basis that it was a display dealing with secular ideals. Stevens said that the display transmits the message that Texas specifically endorses the Judeo-Christian values referenced in the display and thus violates the establishment clause.
Justice Stevens was correct, although his implied endorsement of the existence of God as a secular fact was biased. Justice Breyer's hair splitting distinctions between the Kentucky and Texas Ten Commandments appears to reflect an effort to balance his discomfort with the displays with his discomfort with confronting public opinion. He appears to have ruled against one display in accord with his honest preference that such religiously partisan monuments not be displayed on government property, to try to limit the harm, while carving out an exception big enough to ensure any government could continue displaying the Ten Commandments anyway. These two inconsistent decisions place the dispute in an unresolved status that encourages more litigation.
A self-identifying secular humanist and atheist who owns property in Allegany County, Jeffrey Davis, recently filed a lawsuit in Allegany County seeking to have the McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky decision re-applied to a Ten Commandments monument on the property of an Allegany County court building. The granite monument is one of hundreds (the total number is disputed) purchased and donated over ten years by the Fraternal Order of Eagles to promote the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille Ten Commandments movie. The Fraternal Order of Eagles is a theists only membership organization, with an initiation ritual that features a Bible and religious phrases and prayers, that restricted membership to Caucasians in the past. There is also a George Washington monument somewhere else on the same property. Davis is writing the arguments himself although he is not a lawyer. He expresses an interest in obtaining assistance from experts. Apparently the Maryland ACLU (no surprise here) and the AHA have so far refused to assist him.
Meanwhile the county is spending lots of money on a non-profit law organization, Alliance Defending Freedom, to try to convince the judge to retain the Ten Commandments monument. Alliance Defending Freedom is a conservative Christian organization that describes itself as "defending the right to hear and speak the Truth". We would never argue that our government institutions should display the secular humanist manifesto to respect our freedom of expression to communicate the fact that there is most likely no God and that religions are fictions. Our government does not function as our vocal chords, keyboards, printers, Internet, billboards, etc. When our government remains silent regarding theism versus atheism our government does not thereby deny anyone's freedom to express themselves. There is a time and place for conducting business and another time and place for expressing convictions about (an imaginary) god within every 24 hour day, with time remaining for eating, sleeping, etc. Or watching T.V., it's your choice.
Ten Commandments monuments on the property of a government institution never were, never will be, never can be, a secular display in any country where a majority of citizens profess those commandments came from God as revealed in a (too often primitive and barbaric) holy text that designates death penalties for violations. No judge, no team of well educated lawyers from an expensive law firm, no biased popular opinion, declaring otherwise will change this basic fact. The Ten Commandments is religious by origin, by content, by usage. It is a thoroughly religion drenched biblical document that also has some incidental secular content. When judges falsely claim such displays are secular they demonstrate that they, and our laws, sometimes lack integrity. As secular humanists we should say this publicly, repeatedly, and unequivocally.