Twenty-plus years ago, the first major federal trial I covered for The Oklahoman involved a dispute over a religious symbol on an affluent Oklahoma City suburb's official seal.
This was the lede for the May 25, 1994, front-page story that I wrote:
Residents' perception of a Christian cross on Edmond's city seal emerged as a key issue Tuesday in the first day of a federal trial to determine the symbol's fate.
A Unitarian-Universalist minister and three other plaintiffs testified passionately about their disdain for the cross on the seal, which they contend reduces non-Christians to second-class citizens.
But defense attorney Burns Hargis pressed plaintiffs about their backgrounds, questioning whether they could be considered "average citizens. " Hargis, representing the city, sought to portray the Rev. Wayne Robinson and other plaintiffs as overly sensitive.
Robinson, minister of Edmond's Channing Unitarian-Universalist Church, found his background and his motives under particular scrutiny.
Hargis questioned Robinson about his "love-hate relationship with Christianity," noting the minister's Christian background as a Pentecostal Holiness and Methodist minister who once served in a leading role under Oral Roberts.
"You used to love it, now you really hate it? " Hargis said, in reference to Robinson's views on Christianity.
U.S. District Judge David Russell is hearing the case.
After the trial, the district court judge ruled that the seal depicted the city's history and did not violate the constitutional prohibition against government establishing a religion. However, an appeals court later overturned that ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, forcing the removal of the cross.
I was reminded of that case in reading a welcomed Los Angeles Times follow-up on a more recent court decision in Oklahoma:
I noted the Ten Commandments ruling in a post last week:
In that post, I pointed out a weakness in the coverage that I read:
But after reading all the coverage — most of it balanced and straightforward — here's what I think is missing: more background on that Texas case.
What exactly did the U.S. Supreme Court say in its 2005 Van Orden v. Perry decision? And how might that precedent relate to the Oklahoma monument — particularly if lawmakers repeal the section of the state Constitution in question?
Those seem like relevant questions. Right?
Obviously, journalists at the Times saw my questions and got to work. (Smile.)
The lede on the L.A. follow-up:
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling last week that a Ten Commandments monument must be removed from the grounds of the state Capitol prompted outrage, drew praise and posed a question: Will controversy over religious displays ever end?
For many legal scholars, the outsize role that religion plays in America made the possibility unlikely.
"It's a symbolic fight about how people understand their country," said Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Center in Washington.
"There are very many Americans who believe that unless we acknowledge our roots and Christian tradition as a country, we will fail," he said, pointing to Oklahoma. "This is one of a number of efforts that have been made over the course of our history to reassert that understanding of America."
The Oklahoma case was not the first involving the Ten Commandments.
OK, but what did the high court say in those other cases?
Hold on, the Times gets right to that:
The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up the topic as well and in 2005 issued two rulings with pointedly different conclusions.
The first decision, in McCreary County vs. ACLU, concerned displays of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky courthouses. Other documents were displayed as well, such as the "endowed by their creator" passage from the Declaration of Independence. The court barred the displays, saying they clearly promoted the commandments, rather than educated viewers about historical documents.
The second decision, in Van Orden vs. Perry, found that a 6-foot-tall monument at the Texas Capitol inscribed with the Ten Commandments was constitutional.
In that case, the court said the monument, erected decades earlier, was one of 21 historical markers and 17 monuments on the vast lawns of the Capitol and, in that context, more historical than religious.
Go ahead and read the whole story. The Times provides more relevant and interesting insight. If only all media were as quick to respond to GetReligion's questions ...