Friday, August 27, 2010

The Ten Commandments

It seems that the Supreme Court is going to take up, once again, the question of posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Given the more conservative nature of the current court, they are likely to approve the Kentucky legislature's creation of
“Foundations of American Law and Government” displays, which included the Ten Commandments along with nine other documents, including the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the texts of the Declaration of Independence and Magna Carta. An explanation informed viewers that “the Ten Commandments have profoundly influenced the formation of Western legal thought and the formation of our country” and have provided “the moral background of the Declaration of Independence.”
These "Foundations" displays have spread around the country and were recently endorsed by the South Carolina legislature. Once the Roberts court approves them, they will be sprouting up everywhere.

And I don't care. I have never understood why secular people -- and there is nobody more secular than I am -- get so upset about putting the Ten Commandments on a courtroom wall. Who reads them, or even notices that they are there? The Ten Commandments have nothing to do with either the history of our law or Christianity as practiced in America. They influence nothing. They change nobody's thinking about anything. Hardly anybody in America can list more than three of them. What's the big deal?

A large swath of Americans believes that our nation is in trouble because we are not sufficiently godly. These folks want some things that I think would be deeply pernicious, like a ban on all abortions; some things that I find moderately offensive, like prayers at high school football games; and some things that don't bother me at all, like hanging the Ten Commandments on the wall and leaving "In God We Trust" on our money. For democracy to work, everybody has to get something from the system. If religious Americans feel like the system never works for them -- that secular courts hold some kind of non-democratic power that blocks them at every turn --then they will turn against democracy, with bad consequences for everyone. So why not let them post the commandments, if it makes them feel better about the government?

Besides, if the Magna Carta gets posted in enough public places, there is a chance that I will one day overhear some puzzled person saying, "I wonder what disseize means?" and I can step in and say, "Excuse me . . . ."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Tread carefully here. Do you really, really want to see an end to fishweirs?