In defending the actions of Judge Roy Moore, the Alabama judge who placed
a massive replica of the Ten Commandments in his courthouse, many supporters
of Moore have claimed his actions were justified because, in their view,
the Ten Commandments are the backbone of the legal system in the United
States. I wonder if they've actually read the Ten Commandments. They
ought to - it's a quick read.
Let's start with the first one: "I am the Lord thy God... Thou
shalt have no other Gods before me." In contrast, the first amendment
to the United States Constitution, the law of our land, states that,
"Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion,
or the free exercise thereof..." This means that people can worship
whoever and however they please, or not at all.
In fact, the first amendment tosses Commandments Two and Three out the
window as well; that's why we have no laws forbidding graven images
(Commandment Two), and no laws against blasphemy (Commandment Three).
As for the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep
it holy," there are a few "blue laws" regulating the
sale of alcohol on Sunday still on the books, but there have never been
any laws in the United States requiring people to attend church, or
forbidding people to take in a football game, spend Sunday at the beach,
or even put in a little overtime on the job.
Commandment Five tells us to "Honor thy father and thy mother..."
While most of us would wholeheartedly endorse this sentiment, there
have never been any laws requiring it. The police can't throw you in
jail for sassing your mom.
The next one, "Thou shalt not kill," is pretty basic to cultures
all over the world. (In fact, much of American law was based on the
secular laws of Pagan Greece and Pagan Rome.) But we'll allow that this
commandment, in various guises, is indeed a part of American law.
Commandment Seven, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," is not
a part of American law. While adultery can have many other adverse consequences,
no one is going to arrest you for it in the United States.
"Thou shalt not steal," the Eighth Commandment, like the Sixth
Commandment, is pretty basic, and common to all sorts of cultures. But
we'll mark this as the second one that has a place in American law.
"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."
This is also pretty basic and, in fact, was part of The Code of Hammurabi.
(Those laws were carved into stone by human hands long before Moses
was born. And that stone still exists.) But we'll call this number three,
as it is part of American law.
And the last, the Tenth Commandment, states "Thou shalt not covet
thy neighbor's house... wife... manservant... maidservant.. ox... ass...
nor any thing that is thy neighbor's." There are no laws prohibiting
envy, or covetousness. In fact, sometimes it seems like much of our
capitalist economy is fueled by covetousness.
So- we have, out of ten commandments, only three that have a place in
American law. And those three are so basic that they appear in cultures
throughout the world, including cultures that are not Judeo-Christian.
Most Americans clearly see that it's unethical and illegal for anyone
to place their own religious tenets in a courthouse as if they were
the law. The founding fathers of this country wrote laws to ensure the
religious freedom of all of our citizens, and to ensure that the government
never endorses one religion over another. It is to our credit as modern
Americans that those laws are still on the books.