The United States is a nation that boasts of religious freedom and equality for all people. However, the case of the Ten Commandments in the Supreme Court is proof that our shining golden façade is truly only a gilded one. A public monument bearing the Ten Commandments— along with “I am the LORD thy God” engraved boldly across the top— is nothing if not an effort to evangelize and show preference for Christianity over other faiths.
The monolith that is the subject of this debate was donated to the State of Texas in 1961 by an organization called the Fraternal Order of the Eagles (please note that it’s a “fraternal” organization, thus it enforces patriarchy, just another system that undermines equality). The monument became part of a group of monuments collectively called “The Pride of Texas”. Among this collection were monuments dedicated to the Alamo, Pearl Harbor, and WWI. There is also a monument for the Confederate soldiers of the American Civil War— I wonder how African American legislators feel about that one.
Since the stone bearing the Ten Commandments is the only one of this collection that represents a religion, it seems that the state of Texas is partial to Christianity, and thus the state denies equality of religion. A statement has been published by the Grand Presidents of the FOE that responds to accusations like the one I’ve just made includes the following:
“The Fraternal Order of Eagles has promoted the Ten Commandments not in an attempt to impose religion on the masses, but rather in recognition of their role in the very foundation of our legal system. Our very laws are built on the bedrock moral precepts of the Ten Commandments, and we look forward at long last to having that affirmed by the high court.”
I do not deny that this nation was founded by Christian people and principles, but since then the United States has evolved to become a haven for people of all races, ethnicities and religions, not exclusively Christianity—or so we say. The U.S. Supreme Court banned the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools 25 years ago. In order to continue progressing toward a future of religious equality and tolerance, we need to keep religion separate from politics, and that means keeping religious symbols out of the public sphere. The backyard of Texas’s Supreme Court is nothing if not public space.
According to the statement by the Grand Presidents of the FOE, “our very laws are built on the bedrock moral precepts of the Ten Commandments.” However, there are only three of the 10 that are present in U.S. law, those being the commandments that concern murder, theft, and perjury. The rest of the commandments are broken before my very eyes every day, and I doubt not that these sins have presence in the lives of most American citizens— Christians not excluded. How many of you have worked on Sunday, lusted after a movie star, argued with your parents, and wanted something you couldn’t have? Four commandments were broken in that last sentence alone.
The public display of the Ten Commandments is not only an insult to non-Christians; it is a detriment to the future presence of tolerance, equality, and freedom in the United States. Beyond all this, the display of these commandments comes close to breaking the second commandment, which forbids the display of “any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.” It’s hard to find a much clearer example of hypocrisy. My hope for this conflict is that the monument be moved to a private setting, the separation of church and state be sustained, and Americans move forward together toward a freer future.
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