Ten Irrelevant Commandments

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.