Ten Commandments troublemakers
Nov. 18, 2001
There's a ruckus in Montgomery over the display of the Ten Commandments in the state Capitol. The usual suspects are suing the state in an attempt to accomplish through the courts what they could never achieve democratically under the pretense of preserving the separation of church and state.
There are some gaps in their Constitutional logic, however. The first amendment states that, "Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … ."
First off, this amendment is a restriction applying to the U.S. Congress, not to the state legislatures. State legislatures, Alabama's included, are bound by their respective state constitutions.
Secondly, the intent of the first amendment was to prevent the federal government from establishing an official state-sponsored religion, like King Henry VIII had done with the Anglican Church (Henry VIII, you will remember, split from the Catholic Church, not over theological grounds, but in order to continue his practice of marrying and then discarding wives.).
The phrase, "separation of church and state" is not found in the Constitution, but rather in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to a colleague. Jefferson's concern was not that the church would corrupt the government, but vice versa.
Constitutional issues aside, the historical and legal significance of the Ten Commandments cannot be understated. The Ten Commandments and Hammurabi's code are the oldest written laws still in existence today.
Hammurabi' s law had different standards for the rulers than those applied to the common man. By contrast, the Ten Commandments made no distinction between men. All were equally accountable before the law. This principle became the basis for rule of law, which is the foundation for every free society.
Whether you believe the Ten Commandments to be inspired by God or just the collected wisdom of man, there is no question that following them would solve virtually all societal ills. Without murder, theft, covetousness, disrespect, adultery, blasphemy, and lying, the world would be a wonderful place.
Displaying the Ten Commandments publicly is an acknowledgement that there is such a thing as right and wrong, good and evil, and that the standard does not shift with the passage of time. They teach us how to treat each other and reminds us that we still are one nation under God.
Craig Ziemba, a pilot, lives in Meridian.