Respectful Insolence

Ten Amendments Day

You may not know this, but today has been designated Ten Commandments Day. It sounds pretty innocuous, right? After all, why would anyone object to a celebration of the Ten Commandments? And, of course, it’s every American’s right under the First Amendment to celebrate the precepts of his or her religion. Nothing wrong with that.

So why do I have misgivings about this Ten Commandments Day?

Could it have something to do with the rhetoric on the website? For example:

Is it possible that the mark of God– the Ten Commandments was placed in America over 500 years ago?

Is it possible that God claimed the United States over 200 years before the declaration of independence?

Is it possible that the notion of One Nation Under God literally got its stamp of approval in the wilderness of North America ?

Or how about:

Recent court rulings have threatened the very fabric and foundation of our culture and faith. The Ten Commandments, which have served as the moral foundation and anchor of our great country, are systematically being removed from public places. Public displays of the Ten Commandments have been a powerful visual testimony to the fact that the United States of America is “one nation under God.” Their removal from public places shows that those with a secular humanist agenda are intent on destroying the moral heritage of our nation.

Those who care about traditional values cannot passively sit by and watch the removal of the very principles that made this country great. The Ten Commandments are the heart of all moral code and must be restored to the heart of our society.

We are inviting all Christians, churches, synagogues, ministry leaders, religious bookstores and everyone who is interested in preserving traditional values to join us in a national and global movement to restore the Word of God to our nation.

Or, more chillingly:

We cannot let those who wish to remove all vestiges of Judeo-Christian morality from our society succeed. History has shown that no civilized society or government can exist successfully without recognition, acceptance, adherence, and submission to an absolute authority.

“No society or government can exist successfully without recognition, acceptance, and submission to an absolute authority?” Uh-oh.

“Submission to an absolute authority”? Millions of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians throughout the heartland are calling for submisison by our government to an “absolute authority.” What about freedom? What about Buddhists, Hindus, and other people following other religion that does not involve worship of the Judeo-Christian God? What about atheists and agnostics? And who interprets what this “absolute authority” wants our nation to do, pray tell?

Now do you see why I have misgivings?

Rhetoric such as that found in the Ten Commandments Day website is anathema to the principles upon which this nation was founded! This nation was founded on the principles enshrined in the Constitution and the the Bill of Rights. Contrary to what the religious right says, this nation was not founded as a “Christian nation.” It was founded as a secular nation in which freedom of worship was enshrined in the very first Amendment to the Constitution. Indeed, the prohibition on the government against establishing or favoring any religion and the freedom of religion for U.S. citizens are co-equal with freedom of speech and assembly and the freedom to petition the government for redresses, all of which are enumerated in the First Amendment. Before the U.S. Constitution was even written, Thomas Jefferson promulgated the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, which states “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than our opinions in physics or geometry.”

Fortunately, those who fear the imposition of a narrow sectarian religious view on our Government have organized an alternative for today: Ten Amendments Day. Its purpose:

Powerful forces are working to undermine the principles that have kept Americans free for 215 years. Free speech is confined to fenced-in zones. Privacy is invaded without warrant. Citizens are held without formal charges and without legal counsel.

Most threatening, religious activists are seeking to install God in our government. On May 7th, a Ten Commandments Day Commission and millions of followers are lobbying to replace the Ten Amendments with the Ten Commandments, replacing our civil rights with their religious preferences. This attempt to align the power of government with the authority of God challenges the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and endangers the rights protected by the other Nine.

I’m not sure if the undermining of the Establishment Clause is the biggest threat to our liberties, but it’s plenty big enough and certainly worth being a cause of serious concern to those of us who believe in a secular government. For the protection of people of all religions and people who are not religious, the government must not be allowed to show favoritism towards any religion, even a religion that is followed by the majority of Americans.

For that reason, I urge everyone to take a moment today to read the Bill of Rights and contemplate the liberties that it protects, liberties that we all too easily take for granted.

Comments

  1. #1 Roman Werpachowski
    May 7, 2006

    Fortunately, those who fear the imposition of a narrow sectarian religious view on our Government have organized an alternative for today: Ten Commandments Day.

    Hmm. Ten Commandments Day as an alternative to… Ten Commandments Day?

    :)

  2. #2 Dan
    May 7, 2006

    Bravo, and well said. You’ll find lots of constitutional scholars who think the main legacy of the Rehnquist Court will be its federalism doctrine. I disagree; the protection afforded to states qua states waxes and wanes over time. I think the biggest legacy of the Rehnquist Court will prove to be its Establishment Clause jurisprudence, particularly as it relates to government aid to religion (especially public schools) and the formalism that now passes for neutrality. I was heartened by McCreary but I have a nagging suspicion that it will prove to be the functional equivalent of a day pass at Disneyworld. Van Orden is, I fear, much closer to where the Court really is, and where it is likely to go in the future.

  3. #3 Cath
    May 7, 2006

    The Flash animated tornado is less offensive that the sound on that site.

  4. #4 epador
    May 7, 2006

    Here I was hoping to find out what kind of benign tumor Patrick Kennedy had in 1988 that was removed at MGH, and instead more depressing news. Perhaps you should add a warning to your banner: remember to take your Prozac before reading these posts!

    Anything Jerry Falwell signs up for is immediately suspect.

  5. #5 TheProbe
    May 8, 2006

    Well said, and full agreement. Except for one itsy, bitsy point. What is now called the First Amendment is only the first, because the first and second proposed amendments were not ratified at the time. Properly put, it is the Third Amendment.

  6. #6 JavaElemental
    May 8, 2006

    Is it possible that the mark of God– the Ten Commandments was placed in America over 500 years ago?
    Is it possible that God claimed the United States over 200 years before the declaration of independence?
    Is it possible that the notion of One Nation Under God literally got its stamp of approval in the wilderness of North America?

    Excuse me? WTF? What kind of crap of these people pushing? Granted, I’m no Biblical scholar, but I’m pretty sure the Ten Commandments happened more than 500 years ago, and nowhere near America. And I’m just about sure that no one was particularly Christian in America 500 years ago. *eyeroll*

  7. #7 Deoxy
    May 8, 2006

    Your revulsion at the rather out-to-lunch websit is spot-on.

    I do have to quibble with the “not a Christian nation” bit. Choosing not to endorse one particular seect of Christianity is a lot more historically accurate. Indeed, Congressional sessions started with Christian prayer…

    Alas, the “Ten Amendments day” site is essentially jsut as revisionist as the Ten Commandments day website. “Most threatening, religious activists are seeking to install God in our government.”? Um, yeah, that would be, like, a totally new thing. Well, except for the entire history of our contry, minus about the last 20ish years.

    Also, to a previous poster, treating everyone the same regardless of religion is what the Constitution calls for, not excluding those who arern’t atheist. The decisions you particularly seem to dislike are quite right in that regard – EQUAL treatment.

  8. #8 Mithrandir
    May 8, 2006

    Deoxy, please present the slightest smidgen of reason to believe that the “Ten Amendments Day” site is in any way revisionist. Hint: you have not done so in your post so far.

  9. #9 Chris
    May 8, 2006

    Equal treatment does not just mean equal for all flavors of Christian, or all religions descended from Moses and Abraham. Any organization that actively promoted atheism would, of course, be forbidden to receive government funds to do so, just like any organization that actively promotes theism or any variety thereof. No atheist is suggesting otherwise; the idea of government “pushing atheism” is a religious strawman. Government isn’t and shouldn’t be promoting atheism. It is merely keeping *itself* – not the entirety of society or all public discourse – free of religious interference.

    A government, or a government agency, or a government official in his official capacity, may not express a religious (or anti-religious, if that were ever a real possiblity) opinion; a private individual or a private business or a private organization may.

    Why is that so hard for some people to accept? Why can’t they be satisfied with using their own time and money and that of their co-believers to promote their religion, but instead have such a burning need to use other taxpayers’ money as well? Or to pass laws that enforce their religious beliefs (such as their religion’s definition of and restrictions on marriage, or accepted sexual practices)?

    It is of course true that some of the founders of this country were Christians (though perhaps not as many as you think); but they were quite careful to keep not only their personal Christianity, but Christianity in general and even religion in general separate from the government.

    The history of *our* country is, in this respect, quite different (and quite intentionally so) from the history of most *other* countries, where the church and state have propped each other up since time immemorial. And where persecutions and civil wars over religious issues were commonplace. The founders of this country knew enough history to know that when the power of government is wielded for religious ends, tragedy almost always results.

    (I was going to comment on McCreary, but cut it for length. Suffice it to say that I agree with O’Connor, and find Scalia’s stance that bigotry is acceptable if the minority is sufficiently small despicable and alarming.)

    I think the entire issue, like many other divisive issues in American politics, stems from the deep, and usually unexamined, divide between people who believe that the fundamental priniciples of the USA are freedom and democracy, and people who believe that they’re democracy and freedom.

  10. #10 Harald Korneliussen
    May 9, 2006

    JavaElemental: I don’t know, perhaps this has something to do with mormons? They have some weird ideas about pre-colombian american history.

    I never understood the fixation with the ten commandments in the first place. There is one person being described as being in hell in the new testament (in the parable of the rich man and lazarus), and what do you know? There is no indication that he broke any of the commandments whatsoever, he was just rich.

    The ten commandments are a very poor summary of christian ethics.

  11. #11 Theo Bromine
    May 9, 2006

    I never understood the fixation with the ten commandments in the first place. There is one person being described as being in hell in the new testament (in the parable of the rich man and lazarus), and what do you know? There is no indication that he broke any of the commandments whatsoever, he was just rich.

    I agree that the fixation with the 10 (and not the other 603) levitical commandments is odd. But, as for Lazarus, I suspect that, at least in the minds of the audience, he could not have been so rich if he had not stolen, coveted, or at the very least not loved his neighbour enough – otherwise he would not have been so much richer than everyone else.

  12. #12 Harald Korneliussen
    May 10, 2006

    Theo, Lazarus is the poor guy in the story, by the way. The rich man has no name.
    Indeed, the rich man may not have loved his neighbour enough, but the ten commandments contain nothing about loving your neighbor! Inferring that he had stolen or desired things that were not his is not reasonable, I think. Why should he? He had everything he wanted. Lazarus, on the other hand, would have been a weird guy if he hadn’t occasionally desired other people’s food, clothing, etc. Apparently that doesn’t matter in the parable.

    To jews, I don’t think it’s suprising that the ten are regarded as more important than the other 603, they have a long tradition, and presumably an old theological explanation for that. To Christians, however… Don’t we have better formulations of Christian ethics? Like, oh, Matthew 5.1 to 7.29 (the sermon on the mount)? I suppose it’s less politically useful, les comforting, less slogan-like and more time-consuming to put on stone tablets.

  13. #13 Prup aka Jim Benton
    May 10, 2006

    Harold:
    I always thought the rich man’s name was Dives.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.