Van Orden v. Perry Case Brief

Facts of the case

Thomas Van Orden sued Texas in federal district court, arguing a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capitol building represented an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. Orden argued this violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from passing laws respecting an establishment of religion.The district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Orden and said the monument served a valid secular purpose and would not appear to a reasonable observer to represent a government endorsement of religion.


No. While it is true the separation of church and state are taken seriously by this court, not every display of religion by a Government will be per se invalid. Here we have 17 monuments all meant to show the history of a state. This one monument with the Ten Commandments is a passive display that does not warrant automatic invalidation under the Establishment Clause. This court instead analyzes the nature of the monument and the Nation’s history and finds that a monument with the dual nature of historical reference and religious content is not unconstitutional. The court compares the factual circumstances of this case to another in Kentucky. The Government had a statute that required all classrooms to have the Ten Commandments posted. That circumstance clearly is more obvious as it will be shown to elementary school kids everyday. It is not the same as a historical display outside of the Texas Capital Building. The court states that our Nation’s heritage does have religious implication, thus every historical landmark can not be said to be reinforcing a particular religious rather than showing a history of this County.


.The Court could not say that Texas’ display of the monument violated the Establishment Clause.The Court held that the placement of the Ten Commandments monument on the State Capitol grounds was a far more passive use of those texts than the mandatory placement of the text in elementary school classrooms. Indeed, the citizen had apparently walked by the monument for a number of years before bringing this lawsuit. The monument was also quite different from the prayers that had been prohibited in public schools. Texas had treated her Capitol grounds monuments as representing the several strands in the State’s political and legal history. The inclusion of the Ten Commandments monument in this group had a dual significance, partaking of both religion and government.

  • Advocates: Erwin Chemerinsky argued the cause for Petitioner Paul D. Clement argued the cause for Respondents, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting respondents Greg Abbott argued the cause for Respondents
  • Petitioner: Thomas Van Orden
  • Respondent: Rick Perry, in his Official Capacity as Governor of Texas and Chairman, State Preservation Board, et al.
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: Texas State Capitol
Citation: 545 US 677 (2005)
Granted: Oct 12, 2004
Argued: Mar 2, 2005
Decided: Jun 27, 2005
Van Orden v. Perry Case Brief