Resources on Faith, Ethics and Public Life

Glassroth v. Moore

In Glassroth v. Moore, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a lower court’s finding that the placement of a two-and-a-half ton monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama State Judicial Building violated the Establishment Clause. The monument was located in the center of the rotunda, making it unavoidable for any visitor or employee attempting to access the elevators, stairs, or restrooms. The monument was installed at the direction of the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. According the chief justice’s own speech given when dedicating the monument and his own testimony during the litigation, the purpose of the monument was to invoke “the favor and guidance of Almighty God.” The chief justice also refused to place secular monuments in the rotunda, noting that placing such monuments “alongside the revealed law of God would tend in consequence to diminish the very purpose of the Ten Commandments monument.” The chief justice argued, based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Marsh v. Chambers, that the display did not violate the Establishment Clause because the Court has long upheld public displays of the Commandments. However, the court refused to extend Marsh, which held legislative prayer constitutional based on historical practice, to cases involving public religious displays. Further, the court held that the display failed the test developed by the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman. First, the chief justice admitted that the purpose of the display was religious. Second, the court found that the display endorsed religion because there was nothing that detracted from its overtly religious message, which would cause a reasonable observer to feel that the government was favoring Christianity. Thus, the court held that the display violated the Establishment Clause.

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