The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dalzell, J.
Before us is plaintiffs' request for a permanent injunction against the
authorities of Chester County, Pennsylvania, from maintaining a plaque on
the County Courthouse that displays the full text of the King James
Version of the Ten Commandments.
To consider this vexing question under the First Amendment's
Establishment Clause ("Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion"), we held a non-jury trial on March 4 —
5, 2002. This Memorandum will constitute our findings of fact and
conclusions of law, in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a).
The genesis of this particular Ten Commandments plaque is not in
On March 1, 1920, the Chester County Commissioners authorized the
county's acceptance of a gift of the plaque from the Council of Religious
Education of the Federated Churches of West Chester. All known members of
the Council at the time were clergy or laymen of mainline Protestant
denominations. On November 8 of that year, the County Commissioners
specified the placement of the plaque on the east front of the High Street
side of the Chester County Courthouse, where it remains to this day in
the Borough of West Chester. On December 6, 1920, the County
Commissioners authorized their Solicitor, Mr. MacElree, to be present at
the unveiling of the tablet on Saturday, December 11, and he accepted the
plaque on the county's behalf.
The dedication was held in Courtroom 2 of the County Courthouse. The
program of that dedication, received in evidence at trial, was stipulated
to be authentic and records that the ceremony was presided over by the
Rev. Mr. Samuel C. Hodge, Chairman of the Council. It opened with an
invocation that the Rev. Mr. Jay Dickerson, Pastor of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, led. Those present then sang the hymn, "Before Jehovah's
Awful Throne." After two speeches, including one by a Common Pleas Court
Judge, the plaque was unveiled. The program records that all were then
called upon to recite antiphonally a prayer of dedication that the Rev.
Mr. Charles R. Williamson led:
Leader: Because we believe that the Ten Commandments are basic to
righteousness and justice in government, industry, commerce, the
administration of law, and in society.
Response: We Dedicate to God this tablet of the Ten Commandments.
Leader: Because we believe that the presence of these inscriptions
in bronze of the Ten Commandments will be a reminder, to all who
read as they pass by, of their duty and responsibility to God and
their fellow men.
Response: We Solemnly Dedicate to the cause of public morality
this tablet of the Ten Commandments.
Leader: Because we believe that the presence of this tablet on this
temple, dedicated to justice and the cause of human rights, will be an
inspiration to righteous living on the part of our youth and children.
Response: We Joyfully Dedicate to the interests of a better generation
of citizens and a better nation this tablet.
All: All Of Which We Do in holy fear of Him who is Ruler over all
and the Father of us all.
See Pl'ffs.' Ex. 11. After singing "My Country, `Tis of Thee", the
Rev. Mr. Charles A. Walker gave the closing Benediction. Id.
According to contemporary newspaper accounts, the keynote speaker,
Judge J. Frank E. Hause, decried lax Sabbath observance with the words,
"Have you remembered the Sabbath Day to keep it holy? If you disobey the
commandments here and escape punishment, there is yet the punishment
which will surely be meted out on the day of judgment."*fn1
The Ten Commandments plaque is fifty inches tall and thirty-nine inches
wide and has, as noted, remained at the same location on the Courthouse's
High Street facade since its dedication in 1920. When one faces the east
side of the Courthouse, and looks through the six Corinthian pillars a
few feet in front of that facade, the Ten Commandments plaque stands out
against the white stone blocks it is mounted on. To its north there are
two small signs saying "No Smoking Building" and identifying the
structure as historically significant. Nevertheless, as defendants' Ex.
29 shows, the Ten Commandments tablet dominates the left or south side of
the High Street facade. On the right, north side of the door, there are
signs identifying the building, giving its business hours, and directing
people to after-hours access; there is also a small plaque confirming that
the building is registered on the National Register of Historic Places.
There is thus no other tablet on the High Street facade of any
substantive historical, political or philosophical content.*fn2
The English text of the Ten Commandments is taken from the version King
James commissioned in 1603, known to scholars as the Authorized Version.
The tablet takes its text from that translation of Exodus 20:2-17 and
Deuteronomy 5:6-21, with the Summary from Matthew 22:37 and 39, which are
Jesus' words bringing together Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18. The tablet's
exact words, paragraphing, and relative font size, follow:
THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME.
THOU SHALT NOT MAKE UNTO THEE ANY GRAVEN IMAGE, OR ANY LIKENESS OF ANY
THING THAT IS IN HEAVEN ABOVE, OR THAT IS IN THE EARTH BENEATH, OR THAT
IS IN THE WATER UNDER THE EARTH:
THOU SHALT NOT BOW DOWN THYSELF TO THEM NOR SERVE THEM:
FOR I THE LORD THY GOD AM A JEALOUS GOD, VISITING THE INIQUITY OF THE
FATHERS UPON THE CHILDREN UNTO THE THIRD AND FOURTH GENERATION OF THEM
THAT HATE ME. AND SHOWING MERCY UNTO THOUSANDS OF THEM THAT LOVE ME AND
KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS.
THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD THY GOD IN VAIN:
FOR THE LORD WILL NOT HOLD HIM GUILTLESS THAT TAKETH ...