A brochure published by officials of the state Supreme Court of Pennsylvania shows a blurred depiction of a mural depicting the Ten Commandments which included the following words: “The Decalogue—Hebrew Idea of Revealed Law.” One photograph shows state Supreme Court justices at the bench in the courtroom with the blurred image of the mural behind them. Elsewhere in the brochure the mural is printed clearly.

The judges may have had a hand in making sure they were not seen with the large mural of the Ten Commandments behind them. In a sense, they altered evidence. What are these judges afraid of? Are they afraid that the American public will come to realize that they’ve been hoodwinked? If this mural has been hanging on the wall of the Pennsylvania Supreme court for decades, then why isn’t it acceptable for their local court houses to display the Ten Commandments?

Chief Justice Warren Burger noted in his majority opinion of Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) that the Supreme Court Chamber in which cases related to religion are heard “is decorated with a notable and permanent-not seasonal-symbol of religion: Moses with the Ten Commandments.”[1] State courtrooms and government buildings across our land have housed similar displays for decades without any legal challenge. “In fact, the Ten Commandments are more easily found in America’s government buildings than in her religious buildings, thus demonstrating the understanding by generations of Americans from coast to coast that the Ten Commandments formed the basis of America’s civil laws.”[2] Here are some examples:

• A full-scale model of The Interpretation of Law showing Moses holding the tablets of the law is on the same floor as the Attorney General’s office.[3]

• A statue of Moses holding the Ten Commandments is prominently displayed in the rotunda of the Library of Congress.

• The “Liberty of Worship” statue, which is outside the Ronald Reagan Building, is shown resting on a tablet engraved with ten Roman numerals representing the Ten Commandments.

• A bronze representation of the Ten Commandments is embedded in the floor of the National Archives.

• A mural of Moses holding the two tables of the law is on the courtroom ceiling of the Supreme Court Chamber in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

• The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania contains large murals (10’ X 8’) depicting Moses and the Ten Commandments (the Hebrew Idea of Revealed Law), Jesus teaching the Beatitudes (the Christian Idea of Revealed Law), and Jesus Christ and Disarmament (International Law) painted by Violet Oakley and commissioned by the state of Pennsylvania and dedicated in 1927.

At the dedication ceremony of the Oakley murals, George Wharton Pepper, former United States Senator, jurist, and professor of law, offered the following comments: “It is in this room that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania will sit to determine and interpret each of these rules of life as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can take account of. As the Judges discharge their solemn duty, I have no doubt that their delicate task will be more wisely performed because of the witness of the walls.” Pepper’s words indicate that the murals are more than historical representations of abstract ancient moral law. They are viewed as “rules of life.” He went on to say: “When citizens coming into the open court perceive that they are really entering a sacred place it may be that they, too, will be dominated by the sense of order and will yield themselves to the spell which the artist’s genius is able to lay upon them.”[4]


[1] U.S. Supreme Court Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (decided March 5, 1984), II.C.
[2] David Barton, “The Ten Commandments: A Part of America’s Legal System for Almost 400 years!” Prepared and presented in response to multiple ACLU lawsuits against public displays of the Ten Commandments, United States District Court, Eastern District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, London Division (March 2001).
[3] George Gurney, Sculpture and the Federal Triangle (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985), 177. [4] George Wharton Pepper quoted in Violet Oakley, The Holy Experiment: Our Heritage from William Penn–1644-1944 (Philadelphia: Gogslea Studio Publications, 1950), 106. Also see A Sacred Challenge: Violet Oakley and the Pennsylvania Capitol Murals (Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee, 2003).