Tonight Glenn Beck and David Barton, the anti-gay pseudo-historian who inspired Beck's "Black Robe Regiment," mocked the Supreme Court's reasoning in the 1980 decision invalidating a Kentucky law that required classrooms to display the Ten Commandments. In doing so, they completely misrepresented the ruling.
Barton claimed that the Supreme Court said it "would be unconstitutional" if children read and obeyed the Ten Commandments, which say "[d]on't kill, don't steal, all those terrible things ... that hang in courts of law all over the country":
BECK: I don't know if you've ever heard why the Court says we can't have the Ten Commandments posted in school. Listen to this.
BARTON: Stone V. Graham, 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court said if the posted copies of the Ten Commandments were to have any effect at all it might be to induce the schoolchildren to read them. And if they were to read them they might meditate on them. And if they were to meditate on them they might respect and obey them and that would be unconstitutional. Don't kill, don't steal, all those terrible things that -- all the things that hang in courts of law all over the country.
RABBI DANIEL LAPIN: So in other words it's OK to do the things, you just mustn't think about them.
BARTON: Exactly right.
Barton's interpretation of the ruling misses the point.
In Stone v. Graham, the Supreme Court stated that "[t]he Commandments do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters" and inducing religious behaviors "is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause," which prohibits the government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion."
From the ruling:
The preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, [n3] and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact. The Commandments do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters, such as honoring one's parents, killing or murder, [p42] adultery, stealing, false witness, and covetousness. See Exodus 20:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:16-21. Rather, the first part of the Commandments concerns the religious duties of believers: worshipping the Lord God alone, avoiding idolatry, not using the Lord's name in vain, and observing the Sabbath Day. See Exodus 20:1-11; Deuteronomy 5:6-15.
This is not a case in which the Ten Commandments are integrated into the school curriculum, where the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like. Abington School District v. Schempp, supra at 225. Posting of religious texts on the wall serves no such educational function. If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.