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March 31, 2005

Thou Shalt... What?

When I was young, I learned the of Ten Commandments before I learned of the Bill of Rights. Indeed, I remember asking my mother why the Ten Commandments were not part of the U.S. Constitution after I read it for the first time. (Neither were taught to me in school--nor did I attend church--I was basically a self-taught youngster. Yes, the school systems I grew up in were that bad; we learned legends, not history, where I grew up. Luckily, I grew up in a home where there were many books.)

But I was never taught (it was never "drummed" into me) that the Bible was the absolute truth which we must obey. To me, the Bible was just another book. Or something about which grand movies were made. I also was never directly taught that the U.S. Constitution was some kind of "truth" that we must all obey--but I was taught the legends of the Founding Fathers and the Revolution and Paul Revere's Ride.

And I knew that U.S. Constitution was very important. I had just never actually read it until I found it in a book.

And as I mellowed with age I became astonished at the extreme emotion that people attached to religious icons such as monuments (or plaques) to the Ten Commandments. (I am hardly astonished at extreme emotions attached to the U. S. Constitution, but of such instances we hardly ever hear.)

That a stone monument to the Ten Commandments can simply be called an "acknowledgement of God" and that also such an acknowledgement can be equated as part of the founding principles of the U.S. Constitution invokes in me an extreme emotion.

That the Ten Commandments--nor anything remotely akin to them--are not in the U.S. Constitution should make it clear enough to all intelligent people that our Government was not founded on Christian principles.

The only reference to God is in the Declaration of Independence--written on the eve of Revolution some ten years before the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

These references are an acknowledgment of the existence of A God, most assuredly. However, these references did not make it into the U.S. Constitution.

State Constitutions, however, do reference God; the references are though, almost verbatim the Declaration of Independence. (Some State Constitutions pre-date the U.S. Constitution.) Here are some examples.

"WE, the People of the State of Indiana, grateful to ALMIGHTY GOD for the free exercise of the right to choose our own form of government, do ordain this Constitution."
  -- Indiana
"We, the people of the State of Arizona, grateful to Almighty God for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution"

  -- Arizona

"We, the people of the State of Alabama, in order to establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution and form of government for the State of Alabama:

"That all men are equally free and independent; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
  -- Alabama

Note that this is all that these documents say about "God". There are no "Thou shalts" in our State Constitutions.

Here is the first Commandment:

"Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

First and foremost, such a statement is the definition of non-tolerance. It reads like an edict forbidding the worship of any other god. And as such it goes against the U.S. Constitution and the State Constitutions.

The U. S. Constitution (Amendment I) states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

Which has not so much room for interpretation as the Bible. But what is actually more relevant, and so little known to most Americans, the State Constitutions have clauses like these:

"No man shall be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent. No human authority ought, in any case whatever, to control or interfere with the rights of conscience in matters of religion, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious society or mode of worship."
  -- Texas
"... nor shall any man be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any religious or ecclesiastical ministry, against his consent; nor shall any control of or interference with the rights of conscience be permitted, or any preference be given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship;"
  -- Minnesota
"... and all religious sects and denominations, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good citizens of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law."
  -- Massachusetts
"That no religion shall be established by law; that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship; that no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship; nor to pay any tithes, taxes, or other rate for building or repairing any place of worship, or for maintaining any minister or ministry; that no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state; and that the civil rights, privileges, and capacities of any citizen shall not be in any manner affected by his religious principles"
  -- Alabama

Our country's Declaration of Independence and our State's Constitutions all acknowledge God, but they do so in a very general way. These acknowledgements of God are also subjective to clauses of "freedom of religion".

The Ten Commandments do more than just acknowledge God, they form the basis for the establishment of a religion, of particular religions (there are Protestant, Catholic and Hebrew versions of the Ten Commandments, all of which slightly differ).

Any display of the Ten Commandments in a Federal or State Government building or on Federal or State Government property establishes a religion--and is clearly un-Constitutional.

(C) 2005-2013, Greg Jennings