Does American government need the Ten Commandments anymore?

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New debate over old laws

The Ten Commandments delivered by God to man well over 3,000 years ago, have become the focus of controversy across America. It seems strange that the legal code which has served as the basis of civil law in the Western World for over 2,000 years should now be the center of legal battle.

Previous generations never questioned the use of, display of, and reliance on the Ten Commandments; rather they heartily endorsed their use. For example:

“The law given from Sinai was a civil and municipal, as well as a moral and religious code… laws essential to the existence of men in society and most of which have been enacted by every nation which ever professed any code of laws.”
    —John Quincy Adams

“If ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ and ’Thou shalt not steal,’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.”
    —John Adams

Statue of President Abraham Lincoln, Washington, D.C. / Supplied by Films for Christ. Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

In an even broader affirmation, several Founders of America declared that not just the Ten Commandments, but also Biblical principles in general were inseparable from law and society. For example:

“[L]aw, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same Divine source: it is the law of God… Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is Divine… Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other.”
     -James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

“All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”
     -Noah Webster

Numerous others echoed similarly strong sentiments (see the section on the Ten Commandments in our book Original Intent); and significantly, so important have been the Ten Commandments to civil society that today an individual is more likely to find a copy of them hanging in a government building than in a church building.

The display of the Ten Commandments in public was first questioned in Stone v. Graham when the Supreme Court ruled that students could not be permitted—even voluntarily—to see a display of the Ten Commandments. Since that proverbial “crack in the dike,” activist legal groups, in a systematic series of cases, have successfully challenged and caused the removal of the Ten Commandments in public locations across the nation. Yet, although many of these cases have been lost, many have also been won.

Many are familiar with the plight of Judge Roy Moore in Alabama, who, despite a legal order, refused to remove the Ten Commandments from his courtroom. That widely publicized case reached a successful termination. The State Supreme Court, in a remarkable and admirable display of judicial restraint, refused to rule on anything other than those specific and narrow issues which had reached the Court. The Court then dismissed those issues as having no merit and vacated all proceedings against Judge Moore. The results is that Judge Moore is once again free to display the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and to permit ministers to pray over the jury pools.

A similar suit against Judge John Devine of Texas was also dismissed.

Not only have cases been won on the legal front, but efforts to protect displays of the Ten Commandments have progressed on other fronts as well. For example, in the U.S. Congress, Rep. Cliff Sterns (FL) introduced H. Con. Res. 35, a very simple and succinct bill declaring:

“The Ten Commandments shall be prominently posted for display in the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States.”

The Indiana legislature has passed a similar resolution declaring:

Whereas, the Ten Commandments are in declaration of fundamental principles that are the cornerstone of a fair and just society:

Therefore, Be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the General Assembly of the State of Indiana, the Senate concurring:

Section 1. It is the sense of the General Assembly that the public display of the Ten Commandments, including display in government offices and courthouses, should be permitted."

Also in Indiana, George Hall of the Christian Family Association of Indiana and Ohio successfully encouraged individual counties to pass a resolution to post the Ten Commandments in each county’s government office buildings. (For more information on this work, to help support their efforts, or to find out how you can do the same in your area, contact George Hall, P.O. Box 261, Auburn, IN 46706, 219-927-1364.)

As you can see, there are many good things occurring across the nation, both at the federal and the State levels. Be encouraged, Christians—and stay involved.

Further information on the practical importance of teaching the Ten Commandments

Author: David Barton of WallBuilders. Photos supplied by Films for Christ. Article used with permission. Copyright © 1998, WallBuilders, Inc., All Rights Reserved—except as noted on attached “Usage and Copyright” page that grants ChristianAnswers.Net users generous rights for putting this page to work in their homes, personal witnessing, churches and schools.

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