The Ten Commandments
- OK, I’ve held off on commenting on Alabama’s Ten Commandments showdown, but I guess it’s time to break my silence.
First, let me say I greatly admire the protestors who are using non-violent means to protest what they believe is unjust. One could certainly argue that for once the Christian right is adopting the tactics of the left, and say amen to that. Non-violent direct action can change the world. — Of course in the big picture, I don’t see the removal of a granite monument to the Ten Commandments as being that big of an issue, but if this situation makes the right think more about non-violent means of protest then I think that is a positive thing. (If nothing else maybe it will make them respect those on the left who peacefully protest.)
Secondly though, from a legal standpoint I think the federal courts are right. The monument would be fine if it was in a different location or presented in the context of other historical legal documents (Bill of Rights & Constitution, Magna Carta, Hamurabi’s Code, etc.). I think it would also be ok if it was a historical monument that had been there for 50-100 years.
But since it is a very recent monument (I think Moore put it there in the 90’s) and is placed in the most prominent spot of the Courthouse, then I think it certainly seems to indicate that the state is taking sides in religion. (Something that is forbidden by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which technically applies only to the federal government except that the Fourteenth Amendment binds the states to the Bill of Rights as well).
Probably the thing that to me makes this monument explicitly religious and not merely religious or historical is this inscription on the monument, “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” (a picture of the monument with this inscription can be seen on http://www.msnbc.com/news/954934.asp?0cv=CB10). This statement clearly indicates that the State of Alabama is recognizing that the God of nature (and presumably the God of Alabama) is the God who wrote the Ten Commandments.
That I believe is in violation of the Establishment Clause. Government cannot take sides on religion. I should also note of course that Government can’t in anyway restrict free religious expression either. So, in practical terms I guess Moore’s monument could be allowed to stand IF it was privately funded, and IF the state also let other religious group’s erect similiar monuments… i.e. a giant granite monument to the precepts of Wicca, of Islam, of Hinduism, even Satanism. — I don’t think Moore would favor this of course, which illustrates why his monument is illegal. He (on behalf of the state of Alabama) is taking sides. You can’t favor the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God over any other god and be legal under the Consitution.
Finally though, in the big picture this isn’t that big of a deal. Government’s have traditionally errected all kind of goofy monuments and inscriptions, some good, some bad. UT-Austin has a Bible verse on the tower (You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free) and statues of hereoes of Texas and Confederate history. Grady County, Oklahoma’s courthouse has a goofy saying I think from Cisero inscribed that says, “The safety of the state is the highest law.” (a fascist manifesto if I ever heard one). But these saying, these statutes don’t mean much. Only historical nerds like myself even read them.