01 Jul 2001 The Ten Commandments: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, by Melissa Wiedbrauk
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One thing is for sure. The U.S. Supreme Court has put itself between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the Ten Commandments.
Placed along the top border of the Supreme Court’s magnificent courtroom are carvings of several of history’s great lawgivers. From Hammurabi to Octavian and Justinian to Napoleon, they represent the founding principles of law that helped establish justice and equity here in the United States over the past 225 years. Somewhere in the middle of the southern frieze is a carving of Moses holding the two stone tablets that represent the Ten Commandments.
Though the Court’s justices are well aware of what this particular carving represents, the High Court still refused to hear a case concerning the constitutionality of a monument in Elkhart, Indiana that contains the Ten Commandments. As a result, the display that stands outside the city’s municipal building for the past 43 years must be removed. The refusal upholds a ruling by the Seventh Circuit Court that said displaying the Commandments on city property violates the Constitution’s guarantee of a separation of church and state.
The irony that the justices would not address something that is literally hanging right over their heads is likely only to turn up the volume on the Ten Commandments controversy across the nation. There are similar cases in Alabama, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas. Just two days after the Elkhart decision, another courthouse in Kansas City initiated the removal of another longstanding monument etched with the Commandments.
Those who challenge these displays seemingly fail to realize that the Ten Commandments are much more than a religious document. Opponents, like the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that the Commandments advocate a supreme God; therefore, the government would be endorsing a specific religion over another by displaying them.
What these critics ignore is that the contents of those stone tablets played an integral part in forming the free and united nation that is America. They are a vital part of our heritage! The Ten Commandments are the foundation of our Constitution and civil law, forming the moral principles of how we ought to live together. They contain standards for living concerning families, education, law and government.
Frankly, it is hard to fathom why opponents struggle so much with a document that calls for good behavior. Do they have a problem with people who honor and respect instead of despising their parents, who control their anger and refrain from murdering those with whom they disagree, who stay faithful to their marriage partner and don’t commit adultery, who work for a living instead of stealing from others, who tell the truth instead of lying and who are content with what they have rather than doing whatever it takes to obtain the belongings of others?
It is true that the right to freedom of religion would be compromised if our government imposed one religion over another, but displaying a historical monument that contains the premise for our laws is hardly forcing someone to accept Judeo-Christian religious values.
The principles instilled by the Ten Commandments, along with other religious and moral teachings, should never be completely removed from the realm of public policy and government. In fact, it was this combination that formed the foundations of liberty which set America apart from every other nation in the world. In America, people of all backgrounds, cultures, races and nations can come together and live peaceably.
From the beginning, America has been a melting pot for people with a vast array of differences, but were all in some way guided by the values instilled by the Ten Commandments. Is there any legitimate reason why we should jerk away the very link that held us together?
It is inevitable that the Supreme Court will be forced to address the growing controversy over the Ten Commandments exhibits that exist across the nation.
The Commandments should be upheld so that we, like Moses and the Israelites before us, will have a foundational basis for human conduct that will allow men of all nationalities and colors to live together in peace.
(Melissa Wiedbrauk is a research associate with the African-American leadership network Project 21. She can be reached at [email protected].)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.