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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Ten Commandments

While I am characterized as a right wing nut by most of my detractors, I like to believe that I am fairly independent of thought. There are a number of places I don’t toe the line, which makes sense since I straddle the libertarian/conservative line on most quizzes that test such things. One of these areas is the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property.

I support the posting of Ten Commandments on public property. Wait, didn’t I just say I don’t toe the religious right line? Oh, yeah. Let me clarify – I support the posting of the Ten Commandments everywhere. However, I think there is neither a Constitutional justification nor a spiritual benefit to the posting of the Ten Commandments on government property.

First, the legal question. To this, I simply ask – what is the vested interest of the government in displaying the Ten Commandments? Honestly, I can’t think of one.

There are certainly lots of reasons for the general display of the commandments – to reinforce the reality of the existence of God, to emphasize the absolute morality of the commandments, and to remind us that there are laws above those of man. It is of particular benefit, I believe, that children receive those messages as often as possible. Of course, some would disagree with me, but isn’t it reasonable to present that, at a minimum, the commandments reinforce pro-social behavior? Unless, of course, you think lying, stealing, adultery, murder, disrespecting parents, lust and materialism are positive human traits…

However, I have great difficulty believing that a Constitution that was developed to restrict the amount of power that the government has, also empowered that government to dictate moral precepts of thought for its citizens. Do I believe that those moral precepts are the right ones – and the only right ones? Yes. However, that doesn’t influence my interpretation of the Constitution. The placing of the Ten Commandments in a courtroom doesn’t give the impression of governmental endorsement – it is governmental endorsement. I expect the Supreme Court to rule against Kentucky in the Ten Commandments case. I expect them to rule in favor of Texas, though.

Spiritually, the grace of God embodied in Christ crucified and risen can only be confounded by adding the endorsement of a government. God exists – he needs no law or plaque to help prove it! When a government explicitly or implicitly endorses a religion, that religion becomes linked to the policies and performance of the government. If America is a “Christian nation”, then, by association, Christianity becomes an “American religion”. That only detracts from the gospel of Christ. While America is the greatest nation on earth – in power, charity and influence – it is still a nation composed of fallen people. Tying perfect grace, mercy and love to the worst of our mistakes is very, very bad.

Some Ten Commandments displays, like the one in Texas in front of the Supreme Court, have enough historical value to be considered as such and remain. Others do not. Instead, I encourage faithful Christians and faithful Jews to post the commandments prominently in their homes, on their property, and at their organizations. Thus, we can gain the benefits of the publicly displayed commands of God while avoiding the confounds that arise as from clear governmental endorsement of a religion.

(as an aside, I believe that individual offices, whether they are the Oval Office or the office of the clerk at the post office, are not restricted from such a posting, as they are indelibly intertwined with the individual, not the organization. The same goes for public prayers.)


  • right wing...maybe


    By Blogger John B., at 4/27/2005 11:44:00 AM  

  • I agree that posting the Ten Commandments is a fairly straight forward government endorsement of religion. However, only a few of the commandments really cross this line. The first four (first three if you are Catholic) are about God and religion, but the others are really just ancient laws of conduct. In fact, even the part of taking the Lord's name in vain is really about not breaking legal contracts, perfectly relevant in a court room.

    Also, I don't think there would be any problem with posting all ten commandments if ancient laws from other religions were also posted. Such a display would strongly point out the relationship between our religious morals and secular laws without actually endorsing any particular religion.

    By Blogger Mark, at 4/27/2005 04:30:00 PM  

  • Hammer,

    Excellent post! I've always loved this little piece of wisdom. I think Jesus said it...

    "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's...and unto God what is God's!"

    Honestly, I don't see any reason for conflict between an atheist and a Christian in matters of government. And you know what...maybe there really isn't.

    By Blogger David Hunley, at 4/27/2005 11:04:00 PM  

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