The Ten Commandments and the Constitution - Again

Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice is asking the Supreme Court to overrule an appeals court decision in Ohio that removed postings of the Ten Commandments from 4 schools in that state. In a WorldNutDaily article about the appeal, the following quote appears:

"It is an undisputable fact that the Ten Commandments played a significant role in the development of our legal system in this country," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, in a statement.

Since it has come up yet again, I'm going to reprint a post that I made in December on this subject, examining the ten commandments to see which ones would actually be constitutional.

1. Thou shall have no other Gods before me.

Blatantly unconstitutional. The free exercise clause of the first amendment guarantees that we each have the right to follow any God and any religious belief system we wish.

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me

Also unconstitutional on free exercise grounds. Americans can make any graven image they wish to make, and bow down to whatever god or idol they wish.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain

Unconstitutional on both freedom of religion and free speech grounds.

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy

Again, unconstitutional on free exercise grounds.

5. Honour thy father and thy mother

A good idea, in most cases, but a law requiring it would be unconstitutional and outside the purview of government. You can't legally enforce an individual's feelings toward their parents.

6. Thou shalt not kill

This one is obviously constitutional, and is a part of our legal system. But it's also found in EVERY legal system, even those that have nothing to do with the bible or Christianity. No society can condone murder of each other and survive, so this is simply a survival imperative.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery

Another one that is a good idea, but not constitutional if legally enforced. Adultery is a moral wrong, but it's a private matter between individuals.

8. Thou shalt not steal

This is the second one that is obviously constitutional, but also found in every legal system regardless of the religious system that may have initially spawned it. A universal imperative that would be part of the law even if the bible never existed.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour

Some have interpreted this to be analagous to our perjury laws, but nothing in the text indicates that. It's talking about lying in general, not in a legal sense during court proceedings. And while lying may be wrong, it's not legally wrong except in specific circumstances - perjury and libel/slander. Under our system, most instances of lying would be covered by the first amendment free speech clause.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's

Not only unconstitutional, it would require the ability to read minds. If coveting what your neighbor has was against the law in the US, there would be no "keeping up with the Joneses". You cannot, under our system, legislate against thoughts or feelings.

So there you have it. If the Ten Commandments were made law in the US, only 2 of them would be clearly constitutional, with a third being constitutional in some circumstances. Not only are the other 7 not principles of our governmental system, all of them would be anathema under our constitution. So how exactly is our constitutional system "based on" a set of rules, 75% of which would be obviously illegal under that system? The fact is that these statements are little more than tired cliches. Few people who repeat them have given them any thought. If they bothered to think such statements through, they would recognize the obvious absurdity of them.

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Well, Ed,
"The Ten Commandments are the basis of our laws."
That's just what Ms. June would say! I loved your item by item analysis, something I did as a mental exercise. Nice to see it written down so effectively.
Regards, Blll

The religious right ties itself into knots in its attempts to justify on a historical basis its efforts to use government entities to support Christianity and indoctrinate children into a theistic worldview. Then it acts as if it has been attacked when its efforts are thwarted.