DATE: March 4, 2005

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) was present at the United States Supreme Court on March 2, 2005, as the court heard oral arguments in the case of Van Orden v. Rick Perry. The foundation, along with nine co-signatories representing Hindu, Buddhist and Jain organizations, filed the only amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief providing a non-Judeo-Christian perspective to the widely anticipated case that involved the placement of a permanent monument of the Ten Commandments on government property.

Suhag Shukla, Esq., legal counsel for HAF, attended the hearings along with the legal team from Goodwin Procter LLP, the firm that filed the brief on behalf of HAF. Two cases, both relating to government-sponsored displays of the Ten Commandments, were heard over a span of two hours. The court focused on a wide range of issues, from whether the displays are similar to legislative prayer sessions, to whether the Texas Capitol state grounds where the Decalogue is displayed constitutes a museum-like setting.

Aseem Mehta, an attorney representing HAF, appeared on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes on March 2.

Ms. Shukla was pleased that some of the issues brought forth in HAF’s brief were introduced during the oral arguments. “HAF assertion that the monument, with its location in the seat of government, implies an endorsement of the message found in the display was a central part of the oral arguments,” said Ms. Shukla, “We do hope that the Justices will agree that state-sponsorship of this unquestionably religious display in park-like setting shows an unconstitutional preference of one religious tradition over others.”

HAF’s brief received widespread coverage after its filing on December 13, 2004. The group has asserted that its position is not an effort to counter any religious tradition or its scripture. “HAF, as an organization committed to tolerance and pluralism, has utmost respect for many of the ethical values enshrined in the Decalogue,” said Nikhil Joshi, Esq., also an attorney and member of the HAF Board of Directors. “However, HAF’s stand reflects the views of millions of fellow Americans that feel strongly that the great traditions of the U.S. Constitution maintaining a clear separation between church and state must be upheld.”

During the arguments, Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, Attorney for Van Orden, specifically asked the Justices to consider the effect of the Texas display on Hindus and Buddhists. “There is no way to predict how the Court will decide this issue, but we are satisfied that because of HAF’s efforts, the Hindu perspective, along with that of Buddhists and Jains, will at least have the chance to be considered,” added Ms. Shukla.

Immediately following the oral arguments, HAF explained its position to various media outlets. Among others, Ms. Shukla appeared on National Public Radio and attorneys from Goodwin Procter LLP represented HAF on the Fox News Channel and at a panel discussion on the case at the Georgetown University College of Law.

The full amicus curiae (friend of the court brief) may be viewed at http://www.hinduamericanfoundation.org/campaigns_10_commandments-amicus_brief.pdf

HAF is a non-profit, non-partisan organization promoting the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism.