Tuesday, March 21, 2006

10 Commandments

According to Tony Mauro, legal correspondent of the First Amendment Center, “There are only 10 commandments, but it took the Supreme Court 138 pages of opinion to decide whether displays of those commandments belong on public property.”

In two cases last June, the Supreme Court decided that a Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas was legal, but two displays of the Ten Commandments at courthouses in Kentucky are illegal and must be removed. Both were 5-4 decisions. The irony in the Kentucky decision for Mauro is that in the Supreme Court chamber there is a frieze of Moses holding the tablets containing those same Ten Commandments, and it has been there for 70 years.

In his opinion on the Kentucky case, Justice David Souter wrote,
We do not forget, and in this litigation have frequently been reminded,
that our own courtroom frieze was deliberately designed in the exercise
of governmental authority so as to include the figure of Moses holding
tablets exhibiting a portion of the Hebrew text of the later, secularly
phrased Commandments. In the company of 17 other lawgivers, most of
them secular figures, there is no risk that Moses would strike an observer
as evidence that the National Government was violating neutrality in religion.”

The Supreme Court’s split decision on these two cases has had people scratching their heads. Court watchers say that it all comes down to context – that is, how the Commandments are displayed. We certainly see that kind of argument in Souter’s opinion. But, it is curious, in this land that has been so highly influenced by Judeo-Christian values that the Ten Commandments would prove so controversial.

The Ten Commandments have been the basis for public morality in western civilization for thousands of years. They are part of our moral compass, so it is surprising that our courts would say that they cannot be publicly displayed. I’m sure that the courts would have an even bigger problem with our Lord’s distillation of all the commandments that God gave to Israel. In our gospel lesson, Jesus is asked another pointed question by His adversaries.

Matthew 22:34-46


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