The judge who placed the stone with the inscribed Ten Commandments (Protestant version) in the rotunda of the court building in Montgomery, Ala., claims that he must do this because he must defend the God whose commandments underlie our laws. However:
1) God was in the courthouse before the stone was there and will be there after the stone is removed. Saying that removing that stone is removing God is to say that the stone is an idol.
2) No matter how religious we are, and no matter how absolutely convinced we are that our religion is the true one, none of us has the right to post our favorite religious texts in the public spaces of government buildings in the United States of America. We simply do not.
3) As one who is reasonably familiar with both the Bible and the Constitution, I cannot find a single line in the Constitution that owes its existence to any one of the Ten Commandments. The Constitution never mentions God (not even in the presidential oath -- "so help me God" is not part of it) and mentions religion only twice, once saying that no one holding federal office must meet a religious qualification, and once saying that Congress (and by "incorporation" the states) may not establish a religion.
4) Which of our laws derive from any of the Ten Words (as the Bible calls them)? People all over the world professing any religion have laws against murder, theft and perjury. There are always laws to protect family members against the consequences of one member's unfaithfulness. All societies have laws to protect the interests of old people; our own being rather slack in that regard. Covetousness may be the engine that drives our economy.
How many of the defenders of faith in Montgomery shop at Wal-Mart on Sunday? We have no laws against drawing pictures or sculpting images -- Christians have always ignored that one. No other God before God? Do we really want law to enforce the theology of one particular religion? Our Constitution stoutly and rightly forbids it.
That leaves taking the name of the Lord in vain, and that is just what the crowds around the stone in Montgomery have been doing, turning God's name into a political weapon to be used for their own satisfaction and the hurt of others, a purpose altogether less than holy.
5) When the Founders struck out in a new direction and decided to risk a government that would be divorced from religion in its working, they set religion free to be a constructive force that it had never been in history. They created a country that is today the most religious country in the developed world. This is the result of that clean separation.
If any enemies of God wish to kill religion in this country, their best strategy would be to establish it -- to make being religious and being patriotic inseparable. To force everyone to listen to prayers. To force everyone to view their icons. That would do it.
he Founders certainly did not intend to crimp religion when they established our government, but they didn't intend to advance it either.
Yet they did advance it, precisely by separating it from governance.
Roger Bullard is a retired professor of religion and philosophy at Barton College.
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