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Law School Case Brief

Stone v. Graham - 449 U.S. 39, 101 S. Ct. 192 (1980)

Rule:

The pre-eminent 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, 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, adultery, stealing, false witness, and covetousness. 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. 

Facts:

Sydell Stone and others, members of the Kentucky Civil Liberties Union, brought an action in a Kentucky trial court challenging the validity, under the First Amendment, of a Kentucky statute requiring the posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments on the wall of each public school classroom in the Commonwealth. The trial court upheld the statute, which provided that each of the required 16 by 20 inch copies of the Commandments was to bear a notation in small print stating that the "secular application of the Ten Commandments is clearly seen in its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law of the United States." Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 158.178 also provided that the posted copies were to be purchased with private voluntary contributions. The trial court found that the avowed purpose of § 158.178 was secular, not religious, and that the law would neither advance nor inhibit any religion or religious group, nor involve the state excessively in religious matters. The Supreme Court of Kentucky, on appeal, affirmed the judgment by an equally divided court. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari review.

Issue:

Did the Kentucky statute requiring posting of Ten Commandments in public schools violate the First Amendment?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that the statute had no secular legislative purpose and was, therefore, unconstitutional. The pre-eminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls was plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments were undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose could blind the Court to that fact. It did not matter that the posted copies were financed by voluntary contributions where the mere posting under the auspices of the legislature provided the official support of the state.

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