In the urgency of the perceived need to instill values in our public school students, the House of Representatives has proposed that the Ten Commandments be posted in every classroom. To anyone familiar with recent Supreme Court decisions, this proposal seems unconstitutional on its face. Neither the federal government nor the states can take any action that advances or prefers one religion over another, or that advances or prefers religion over "nonreligion," i.e., atheism or simply secular principles of conduct.There may be some wiggle room for Congress to maneuver, in that the Supreme Court has sometimes permitted religious displays (such as a nativity scene on municipal property) when accompanied by similar displays that are secular in nature (such as decorated pine trees or Frosty the Snowman). The theory is that such a combined display does not advance religion, but simply nods to cultural practices for secular purposes (perhaps encouraging shoppers to be generous in the local malls).
In this spirit, I propose that the posting of the Ten Commandments be accompanied by a similar posting of some of the secular principles that govern our legal and social relations. In my draft, the match-up is not perfect. In places, there are contradictions, but even the juxtaposition is instructive. The final wording can be worked out in committee.
1. The constitution, and the laws of the United
States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.
1. I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
2. Counterfeiting is a punishable offense.
2. Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.
3. Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. Congress shall have the power to declare the punishment of treason.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
4. Forty hours shall constitute the work week. You shall not work beyond forty hours in a week unless you shall be paid time-and-a-half for your labors.
4. Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.
5. You shall submit to the lawful commands of your parents, who have the power to control you until your majority.
5. Honour thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
6. Murder is a punishable offense.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Adultery is rarely punished.
Generally taken off the books when the legislatures get around to it.
7. Neither shalt thou commit adultery.
8. Theft is a punishable offense.
8. Neither shalt thou steal.
9. Perjury is a punishable offense.
9. Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.
10. The desire for increased possessions and status
is the engine that drives the economy. You shall covet all things.
10. Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's.
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