Tale of Ten commandments

When you pay a traffic fine in Cobb County, Georgia, you have to face up to the law of the land--and to the law of God. The Ten Commandments, to be precise, which are displayed on a wall plaque beside the ticket window. The plaque has co-existed peacefully with the courthouse wall for thirty years and no one ever objected to it. But in recent months it has threatened to become a national issue. A sharp-eyed law clerk spotted the Ten Commandments--right there on government property!--and called in the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU demanded that the plaque be removed, claiming a violation of separation between church and state. The state court judges refused unanimously. They argued that it's perfectly constitutional for a courthouse to decorate its walls with historical examples of codified law. The judges are right, of course. Otherwise even the U.S. Supreme Court building would be unconstitutional--because right above the head of the Chief Justice, carved in marble, is a tablet representing the Ten Commandments. You see, the Constitution doesn't even use the words "separation of church and state." The First Amendment simply says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The purpose of the amendment was to prevent the federal government from setting up an official national church--like the Anglican Church in England or the Lutheran church in Sweden. It was not intended to prevent the government from treating religion favorably. The historical record on this is clear. On the very day Congress passed the First Amendment, it also passed a measure setting aside a national day of prayer and thanksgiving. Government officials back then saw no contradiction between the two laws. They didn't see any contradiction between the First Amendment and the appointment of a congressional chaplain either, even though he was paid out of federal funds. It was Thomas Jefferson who coined the common phrase about a "wall of separation" between church and state. But even Jefferson, when he was president, signed a law making churches tax-exempt. He also used federal funds to build churches and establish missions to bring the Gospel to the Indians--and never saw these measures as violating the separation between church and state. You see, when we talk about what's constitutional, we have to consider what the writers of the Constitution themselves had in mind. From history it's obvious they did not intend anything like the completely secular state envisioned by the ACLU. Under the ACLU's interpretation, even the Declaration of Independence would be unconstitutional, because it refers to the Creator as the source of our rights. Well, down in Georgia, the ACLU is threatening to take the Ten Commandment case to federal court. And one wag has suggested a way to outsmart them. Just decorate the plaque in some obscene way, he suggests, and call it art. Instantly the ACLU will defend your right to free expression. You might even get funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The idea was meant as a joke, of course, but what a bitter truth it expresses. In our day, you can mock religion in public --and even get paid for doing it. But you can't show respect for religion in public--or you risk being hauled into court.


Chuck Colson


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