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Constitutional FAQ Answer #147

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Q147. "I read somewhere that Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed are depicted in the Supreme Court. Is this true? Does this violate the separation of church and state?"

A. There is a frieze in the Supreme Court building that depicts Moses and Mohammed, but not Jesus. The frieze, which is a sculpture installed in a wall, were sculpted by Adolph Weinman in 1932. Weinman sculpted 18 people through history who have had an impact on our concept of law, as well as allegorical figures depicting some great legal concepts. This information was collated from the Supreme Court web site.

Allegorical figures: Fame, authority, light of wisdom, history, philosophy, equity, right of man, liberty, and peace.

The lawgivers: Menes (first king of the first dynasty of Egypt); Hammurabi (king of Babylon, creator of the Code of Hammurabi); Moses (shown holding the Ten Commandments); Solomon (king of Israel); Lycurgus (legislator of Sparta); Solon (lawgiver of Athens, codified and reformed Athenian law); Draco (first lawgiver of Athens); Confucius (Chinese philosopher); Octavian (first emperor of the Roman Empire); Justinian (Emperor of Byzantine, father of the Justinian Code); Mohammed (shown holding the Koran); Charlemagne (Roman emperor, founder of the Holy Roman Empire); King John (shown holding the Magna Carta); Louis IX (King of France, creator of the first appeals court); Hugo Grotius (author of the first book on international law); William Blackstone (English law professor whose work influenced English and American law); John Marshall (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, 1801-1835); Napoleon (Emperor of France, influenced the Napoleonic Code).

These depictions do not violate the notion of the separation of church and state, because they are not an endorsement of religion. Rather, they are a nod to the historical nature of each of these persons and their role in the legal code we adhere to today, and make no commentary on the religions they represent.

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