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6.3.05

A friend was comparing the Ten Commandments to testifying under oath. She was being sarcastic, but this is an argument that I've heard before. So I wanted to respond.

First, it's only on television where people place their hand on a Bible and finish swear to tell the truth, "so help me God." In a real courtroom, the Judge's clerk or deputy asks the witness to raise their right hand. The deputy will say, "Do you affirm that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" The person says yes. That's it. There is no swearing, no "so help me God" that we see on television and in the movies (imagine...something on tv isn't accurate).

Another argument is that our society has adopted the laws in the Ten Commandments through the laws of our country. I find this argument wrong on two levels. First, I think that there is a difference between a law saying that killing is illegal, and a Commandment, allegedly handed down from God, saying, "thou shall not kill" (or face my wrath) and placing it in a government building, even a courthouse where judgments are handed down. Don't get me wrong, those who know know me (all three of you) know that I wear my cross. But what about those who do not?? Why should my beliefs become something they are forced to confront by the government? This country was founded on separation of church and state. While I personally have one set of beliefs, I also believe that I can't force those beliefs on others.

I have discussed the
separation of church and state before. I don't see how this comports with the first ten words of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, andto petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Jefferson discussed the wall of separation between church and state in 1802. This is not a new concept. And adding the Ten Commandments to government buildings and courthouses clearly destroys any wall of separation. It gives the Ten Commandments government legitimacy.

Finally, the Ten Commandments contain "commandments" that this society has never even compenplated adopting as law. For example, judges don't throw people in jail for having other gods before the Christian God, or for taking God's name in vain, or having other images, or working the sabbath. Sometojne is not a criminal for working the sabbath, and it is not a crime to fail to honor one's parents, or to coveting neighbor's house/wife, etc? (Actually, doesn't jealousy make America work? Trying to keep up with the Jonses and their two cars or whatnot? But I digress.) Even things such as committing adultery and lying under oath (false witness) are not "crimes" as we think of them anymore.

So yes, I think that it's wrong to place the Ten Commandments in government buildings, I don't think it's similar to testifying under oath, and I don't think that it's similar to judges enforcing other laws.

My two cents on the issue.

12 Comments:

  • At 4:04 PM, Blogger p.p. said…

    Stephanie, well said. I agree with everything you wrote.

    Certain individuals who may feel they are academically and spiritually enlightened, but in fact are closed-minded one-laned thinkers living within an encapsulated existence, need to pull their heads out their asses and realize that their insignificant beliefs, cannot, should not, and will not be forcibly branded onto others. And, although, it may take years for them to fully realize this fact, they know who they are.

     
  • At 6:59 PM, Blogger Melissa said…

    Peter,

    You don't have to be acedemincally or spiritually enlightened to have an opinion. Just because we don't agree does not make them close minded, nor their beliefs any more insignificant than ours.

     
  • At 7:20 PM, Blogger Curtis said…

    I have a very different take on this being a liberal Christian. I've grown up in very conservative churches and met a lot of people who really support the 10 Commandments, prayer in school, and all these other contentious Christian in public places arguments.

    I never bought them even when I considered myself to be a Republican conservative, and I'll get to that in a moment.

    First, in my opinion most of the people who I spoke with didn't believe that they were right because of any sort of enlightenment. They didn't even want these things to force religion onto other people. There are some who do but that's not all Christians, and it's certainly not all Christians who want these things.

    My impression was typically that they want these 10 commandments and things based on history and fear about the future. It's scary when what you believe in is being pushed behind doors. You feel like you're not welcome to show any display of your religion. You feel like people are rejecting something that has been a part of this country for a long time.

    I never liked pushing for these sorts of things only because as a Christian I would much rather have a religion-neutral society. I mean look at what happened to Europe as a violent reaction to the government getting too involved with religious endorsement. As a Christian that made me very, very scared. There has been a violent reaction against religion because the government endorsed Christianity too strongly.

    The other thing that can happen besides a very violent backlash against the majority religion is for another religion to become the majority. If you open the doors to one you have to open the doors to all the others. I wouldn't want to be forced to sit for a Buddist prayer in school, so I why would I want to push this? I wouldn't want to see an alter to Buddah in the courthouse when I enter.

    In my mind, the government is a very, very dangerous force. Allowing it to have anything to do with religion is very dangerous to my personal faith.

    That is my take. I don't think it has anything to do with people being right or wrong. I think it's just about different opinions.

     
  • At 7:38 PM, Blogger p.p. said…

    Melissa,

    You don’t have to be academically or spiritually enlightened to have an opinion. You are correct. But, unfortunately, I was no referring those individuals.

    I was referring specifically to those individuals who profess to lead a life of spirituality (a variety Christianity, if you will). These self-proclaimed religious people spurt out a life of goodness (via their Christian faith), but when a diverging opinion is expressed, they stick their head back into the sand. The ability to express an opinion is a wonderful right to possess; however, the hypocrisy lies in the fact that these individuals, who utilize this right the most, are often the first censor an opinion contrary to their own.

     
  • At 8:25 PM, Blogger Case Wagenvoord said…

    Here's a bit of trivia. The concept of seperating church and state originated with a clergyman, Roger Williams the founder of Rhode Island. Williams knew that as soon as a religion was make the official state religion it became spiritually corrupt. I've always felt that white Protestantism in this coundtry has never recovered from the fact that from the 1820s to the 1960s it was the de facto state religion of America.

    If we must post something, I'd rather see the Beautitudes.

     
  • At 11:16 AM, Blogger Ontario Emperor said…

    However, the Beatitudes would be more in violation than the Ten Commandments.

    Remember that when Roger Williams was active, the danger was that particular DENOMINATIONS would control the government. This was the issue back in Europe, where the Congregationalists fled from the Episcopalians, and was the issue in the North American colonies, where Williams fled from the Congregationalists.

    One could make an argument that the posting of the Beatitudes would be an "establishment" of Christianity, IF you assume that Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, et al practice the same religion.

    But if one is posting the Ten Commandments, what religion is being established? Let's look at something Stephanie stated:

    "Finally, the Ten Commandments contain 'commandments' that this society has never even compenplated adopting as law. For example, judges don't throw people in jail for having other gods before the Christian God...."

    While much of society makes the assumption that the Ten Commandments are "Christian," they're missing the point that (even if you assume Mormons, etc. are "Christian") there is one universally acknowledged non-Christian religion that considers the Ten Commandments to be divine truth. (Hint: who received the Commandments in the first place?)

    I agree that anything that establishes a PARTICULAR religion should fall under the First Amendment. However, anything that establishes MULTIPLE religions would fall under the "don't prohibit free exercise" clause. For example, posting the word "God" (whatever that means) would not establish a religion, but censoring the word "God" would prohibit free exercise.

    On a related topic, I would fully support the taxation of churches. This would get rid of people who claim to be churches solely for the tax benefits. And there's no First Amendment "commandment" (heh) that churches be exempt from taxes; if there were, then the taxation of newspapers here in California would also be illegal. But this is a whole 'nother story...

     
  • At 11:45 AM, Blogger tadvent said…

    A couple coments.
    First, "thou shall not kill" is the wrong translation. In reality the commandment should read "thou shall not murder". As with most things it was changed or mis-printed somewhere along the way.

    I have 17 years of Catholic education and have been practicing my whole life. Do I think the 10 commandments should be put in a public place? I don't think there should be a law against it. I know that's a cop out, sorry, but shouldn't the decision to display something like that be up to the municpality and the court itself?

    The 10 commandments are not a bad thing, what in there could be offensive to anyone? If the world lived by those commandments it would be a far better place, no matter what your religion.

    I know about seperation of church and state and all that. However recently it seems like there is a huge effort get rid of all "christian" religion in Govt. If you want to do that, shouldn't schools not be off for any religious holiday? Why not keep the Govt. open on Christmas of passover. Shouldn't every Jew that works in Govt have to work on Saturdays?

    Come on, religion is an integral part of the daily lives of humans as is govt. It's impossible not to mix the two.

     
  • At 11:46 AM, Blogger tadvent said…

    A couple coments.
    First, "thou shall not kill" is the wrong translation. In reality the commandment should read "thou shall not murder". As with most things it was changed or mis-printed somewhere along the way.

    I have 17 years of Catholic education and have been practicing my whole life. Do I think the 10 commandments should be put in a public place? I don't think there should be a law against it. I know that's a cop out, sorry, but shouldn't the decision to display something like that be up to the municpality and the court itself?

    The 10 commandments are not a bad thing, what in there could be offensive to anyone? If the world lived by those commandments it would be a far better place, no matter what your religion.

    I know about seperation of church and state and all that. However recently it seems like there is a huge effort get rid of all "christian" religion in Govt. If you want to do that, shouldn't schools not be off for any religious holiday? Why not keep the Govt. open on Christmas of passover. Shouldn't every Jew that works in Govt have to work on Saturdays?

    Come on, religion is an integral part of the daily lives of humans as is govt. It's impossible not to mix the two.

     
  • At 12:48 PM, Blogger Matthew said…

    Excellent post, Stephanie.

    I totally agree with you (and Peter).

     
  • At 1:52 PM, Blogger Curtis said…

    Tadvent, it isn't a question of what is offensive about the 10 commandments. The world might be better off if everyone followed them but who are we to say. The point is that there are laws in our nation and state that govern what is illegal, and, by implication what is legal. Therefore, why put up the Ten Commandments in the first place? Why put up text from the bible when our judicial systems don't follow they bible. They follow a secular law that is established by elected legislatures.

    I think there is a lot of great stuff in Nietzche's writing. Should we litter the walls of the courthouse with that? What if a Judge consulted Nietchze before making a ruling on a case? There would be uproar. Judges and the courts do not get to follow extra-judicial law.

     
  • At 6:59 PM, Blogger Dennis! said…

    One quick comment (I'm preparing my own blog entry on this topic too, so I'm holding back on some of my thoughts for that post), but in response to "What could be so offensive about the Ten Commandments?"

    Answer: The First Commandment, which in some translations reads, "I am your God, your only God, and thou shalt have no other Gods above me." Anyone who doesn't agree with this statement -- atheists, Buddhists, polytheists, etc. -- can and will feel alienated by a display that looks like the government endorses this notion.

     
  • At 8:18 PM, Blogger Matthew said…

    Great post, Stephanie; good comments, people.

    I feel compelled to point (again) to one of my favorite bits of West Wing dialogue, relating to a town that wants to make its only laws the Ten Commandments:

    SAM
    Leo, did you know there's a town in Alabama that wants to...

    LEO
    Yes.

    SAM
    What do you think?

    LEO
    Coveting thy neighbour's wife's gonna cause some problems.

    SAM
    That's what I said. Plus, if I were arrested for coveting my neighbour's wife, I'd probably bear false witness.

     

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