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Supreme Court Issues Split Ruling on Displays of Ten Commandments


The Supreme Court has handed down important decisions on religious displays and Internet file sharing. But an anticipated retirement announcement from Chief Justice William Rehnquist did not come.

A sharply divided Supreme Court issued two rulings on the constitutionality of government displays of the Ten Commandments.

In one case, the high court ruled five to four that a granite display of the Ten Commandments outside the Texas State Capitol should be allowed because it was more of a historical tribute to the nation's legal and religious history than an endorsement of religion.

But in a second case, the justices ruled five to four that displays of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses could be construed as a government endorsement of religion in violation of the guarantees of separation of church and state contained in the U.S. Constitution.

Those who advocate the public displays of the Ten Commandments welcomed the court's ruling in the Texas case.

The Reverend Rob Schenk is a conservative Christian activist with the National Clergy Council.

"That is the most important victory in this debate because all over this country we have monuments that display the Ten Commandments in recognition of their invaluable contribution to the formation of a just, moral and ethical American civilization," said Mr. Schenk.

Groups that oppose government advocacy of religion were disappointed that the high court decided to allow the Texas display of the Ten Commandments to continue.

Barry Lynn heads a group called Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

"These split decisions guarantee that there will be far more lawsuits and far more confusion about the status of religious symbols on public property," said Mr. Lynn. "The Supreme Court could and should today have drawn a very clean line that is that no government building should be decorated as if it were a church."

In another closely watched case, the high court unanimously ruled that Internet file-trading networks can be held liable for those who illegally copy music and movies.

The Supreme Court set aside a lower court ruling that had said the Internet networks were not liable for copyright violations. The case will now be sent back to the federal appeals court.

The decision is seen as a victory for music recording companies and the movie industry. Both complain that free downloads of music and movies from the Internet are hurting their retail sales.

Technology companies argue that holding them liable for copyright infringement will stifle the kind of creativity that led to the development of the iPod portable music listening device.

Finally, an eagerly awaited retirement announcement did not come from the Supreme Court bench. Many political and legal observers had predicted that Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is battling thyroid cancer, might announce his retirement on the final day of the Supreme Court session.

But so far there has been no indication that Chief Justice Rehnquist or any of the other eight justices plans to step down.

The last court vacancy occurred in 1994 and a retirement now would likely set off a major confirmation battle between President Bush and congressional Democrats.