God Belongs in Temples of Government

Much has been written about the Supreme Court case of Van Orden v. Perry, which has at its center a monument of the Ten Commandments that has stood between the Texas State Capitol and the Texas Supreme Court in Austin since 1961. Thomas Van Orden wants to remove it. The state of Texas wants to keep it right where it is.

The Ten Commandments should stay right where they are–in all cases. Various monuments, structures and statues of the Ten Commandments can be found all over the United States, including some highly visible spots in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of “God in the Temples of Government,” a photo essay by Carrie Devorah in Human Events (the crusading national conservative weekly), we are reminded of three prominent monuments in the capital city: Moses and the Ten Commandments can be found in the rotunda of the Library of Congress, on the rear facade of the U.S. Supreme Court and inside the Supreme Court’s courtroom.

The Ten Commandments are literally chiseled into the American way of life. But there is a campaign going on that would rid this country of any and all religious references. This is part of the ongoing culture war that would stop religious expression in politics and the public square, even though we remain the most religious of all the major industrial countries. Fortunately, brave people like state Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, who recently argued the Texas position in Van Orden v. Perry before the Supremes, want to keep it that way.

Religion has always been central to our national identity. Religious references do not violate the First Amendment, which was never intended to bar all religious expression or discussion from national discourse. James Madison himself, the author of the First Amendment, was sworn in with his left hand on the Bible. So was George Washington, and, I believe, every President since.

The Ten Commandments provide the very foundation of our nation’s legal code. They also make up the basis of the moral values that thankfully guide us in our everyday lives.

I have a suspicion, however, that too many folks forget what’s on that list of commandments, or maybe never learned them in the first place. And even if we do know the Ten Commandments by heart, it never hurts to read them through and contemplate them from time to time. So here’s all 10:

    1) I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have strange gods before me.

    2) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

    3) Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day.

    4) Honor thy mother and father.

    5) Thou shalt not kill.

    6) Thou shalt not commit adultery.

    7) Thou shalt not steal.

    8) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

    9) Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s wife.

    10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.

I have a few direct questions for you: Is it such a bad thing to think about not killing, not stealing, not lying and not committing adultery? Is it so bad to talk about honoring one’s parents? Or to think about a power greater than oneself–about God or some higher deity? Or to set aside just one day a week as a spiritual day, separate from the material strivings of the other six days?

Attempting to live by these moral and religious values is a worthy endeavor. No one of us is perfect–that role is for God alone. But if we strive for better values in our day-to-day lives, if we seek to meet the age-old standards of goodness and honesty, if we try to help our neighbors in all we do, won’t we be better people, even if our imperfections cause us to fall short?

I should think that anyone who strolls the grounds of the Texas state Capitol and for one moment stops to read the Ten Commandments on the monument that Abbott is trying to keep in place will be the better for it. Moral commandments–like most spiritual thoughts in this day and age–seem too few and far removed from our usual toils and tribulations. But deep down inside, we all have a desire to live as better citizens, better spouses, better parents, better co-workers and better friends.

An occasional reminder as to how to do this cannot be a bad thing. No–keeping the Ten Commandments in the public square must perforce be a good thing.


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