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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

What role DOES the Ten Commandments play?

I am sure you all know that arguments were heard today by the Supreme Court over the Ten Commandments being prominently displayed in a public courthouse. This stems from two years ago when Roy Moore had one in the Alabama state courthouse, which was subsequently removed.


The argument in favor is this: America's legal and moral heritage stem from the Ten Commandments. Of course they should be there.


The argument against: The Constitution separates Church and State. The Ten Commandments are a overtly religious symbol and should be removed from any public setting.


Who's right? I side with those who want it removed, but with reservations, which I will explain.


The overwhelming argument against it being displayed is that it is being defined as THE source of our legal code. In doing that, you do blur the line between Church and State. You make a religious code the foundation of the State


And that assumption is incorrect. Our legal heritage is the English Common Law. And that derived from multiple sources: Danes, Saxons, Normans, Romans...it's a long list, people. And all those codes had penalties for theft, murder and the like. We didn't need the 10 Commandments to figure that out.


So, for Roy Moore to border on idolatry with his Decalogue statue was just absurd. And if the 10 Commandments are being held up as the sole source, then it should be removed.


HOWEVER...


That doesn't mean it shouldn't be displayed at all. It is a historical legal code, one that deserves recognition. And, when placed in that secular context, it should be allowed to be displayed. The Supreme Court frieze has this setup. On it you see Moses and the Decalogue, along with Hammurabi (Hammurabi's Code), Napoleon (Roman Law) and others. That is a perfectly acceptable way to show it.


What I worry about is a broad ruling that will either ban or allow religion in the public sphere.


The guiding precept should be intent. There is obvious intent on the part of Moore and his supporters to raise up Christianity as the dominant faith in the way they venerate and present the Decalogue. But should "under God" be stripped from the Pledge? Or "in God we Trust" struck from our coinage? No. Those statements are not endorsements, but historical markers. Besides, they don't say which "god."


Should Handel's "Messiah" be banned from public school concerts? I should hope not!! Yes, the music professes a religious belief. But it's a work of art with historical context. Any school chorus performing it is obviously not pushing a certain faith.


And by the same token, we must endeavor to make sure those who worship a non-Christian faith (or none at all) are not confronted in the public sphere with religious displays that promote Christianity as inevitably entwined with government.


The ruling comes in June.

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