Van Orden v. Perry

545 U.S. 677 (2005)


The Texas State Capitol contains17 monuments and 21 historical markers commemorating the 'people, ideals, and events that compose Texan identity.' The monument at issue stands 6-feet high and 3-feet wide. Its primary content is the text of the Ten Commandments. An eagle grasping the American flag, an eye inside of a pyramid, and two small tablets with what appears to be an ancient script are carved above the text of the Ten Commandments. Below the text are two Stars of David and the superimposed Greek letters Chi and Rho, which represent Christ. The bottom of the monument bears the inscription 'PRESENTED TO THE PEOPLE AND YOUTH OF TEXAS BY THE FRATERNAL ORDER OF EAGLES OF TEXAS 1961.' The state accepted the monument from the Eagles--a national social, civic, and patriotic organization. The State selected a site for the monument, and the Eagles paid the cost of erecting the monument, the dedication of which was presided over by two state legislators. P sued numerous state officials in their official capacities under §1983, seeking both a declaration that the monument's placement violates the Establishment Clause and an injunction requiring its removal. The District Court held that the monument did not contravene the Establishment Clause. It found that D had a valid secular purpose in recognizing and commending the Eagles for their efforts to reduce juvenile delinquency. The District Court also determined that a reasonable observer, mindful of the history, purpose, and context, would not conclude that this passive monument conveyed the message that the State was seeking to endorse religion. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.