BreakPoint Blog

School board restores 10 Commandments and, in effect, the Constitution

The Giles County School Board of southwestern Virginia will be reissuing posters of the 10 Commandments in all of the county’s schools. This decision comes after parents and locals expressed frustration with the earlier decision to remove the 4-foot tall framed posters.

A member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained to Superintendent Terry Arbogast, who was then advised by the school board attorney to remove the 10 Commandments from all county schools. The 10 Commandments were replaced with the Declaration of Independence. The school board’s decision leaves some questioning whether or not the move was unconstitutional.

What I find the most interesting in this situation is that the document replacing the 10 Commandments—the Declaration of Independence—makes specific references to God as our Creator and the endower of our rights and liberties. If the Freedom From Religion Foundation really wanted to be free from religion, shouldn’t they protest any reference of God?

A very sympathetic view, but wrong one, is that displaying religious documents in a public place implies the government—whether federal, state, or local—is adopting a particular religion. Another misstep is in assuming that removing religious symbolism or documents will keep us free from religion and in accord with the 1st Amendment.

By removing everything religious we do away with the 1st Amendment and adopt only atheism. Atheism is most certainly religious. Atheists not only take on the structures of belief that other religions do, but they also denounce other beliefs not in accord with the way the see the world. They take a particular stance on the cause of the universe, nature, and our purpose, as the definition of religion explains.

Unless a sound case is made for how displaying religious text at the request of the public is the same as the Congress making a law establishing a religion then we will continue to suffer under an atheistic tyranny devoid of any constitutional grounding.

The First Amendment does not say the public will be free of religion. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” I am well aware that appellate courts and the Supreme Court have ruled differently since, but I don’t understand why. The Giles County School Board was not making a congressional law establishing a religion.

This goes back to the age-old fallacy that our country was to separate church and state. By not establishing a particular religion the government was able to keep the Church from enforcing morality and the government from creating it. From the beginning it was clear that morality must be legislated (we punish people for crimes and prevent them whenever we can), and politics and religion would always be entwined. How could they not? If this was not the case, then there is no moral basis for outlawing slavery or giving women a right to vote. Without a moral basis rooted in religion, the morality-inspired law can change as quickly as the ruling party. The Constitution ensures the free exercise of religion to prevent that moral basis from being eliminated.

John Adams wrote, “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God and that there is no force of law in public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘thou shall not covet’ and ‘thou shall not steal’ are not commandments of heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.”

If we strip religion out of schools and other public places, where do we ground ourselves morally? Our country was founded on principles of freedom. But where did those principles come from? The founders of this country came for religious freedom because they were being snuffed out and ostracized in Europe. The same is happening to us when the 10 Commandments—the least objectionable and most basic all Judeo-Christian ethics—is dismissed by those wishing to free our culture from the religion our Constitution recognizes is our right to exercise freely.


Is this a fight for supremacy or a fight to be treated fairly?

In the present American climate the government has no choice but to either celebrate all respectable factions equally or ignore them equally and if we opt for the first we get stuff like that tastelessly insipid coexist bumper sticker. We have more important things to worry about then whether the ten commandments are not displayed in a public school.

Of course that begs the question of whether state sponsored schools should have as much dominance over education as they do in the first place. We are jealous of control over the marketplace yet we seem to be rather spendthrift about control over children's minds.
Thanks for the reply, Billy. I appreciate civil discussions on these matters.

As Ben W stated, the absence of anything religious would not be condoning atheism.

"But if I wasn't allowed to have that sticker, then the move would presume atheism as a dominating religion."

I disagree with your conclusion here. Regardless, the car is a bad example. Keeping religion out of a government-funded classroom is not the same as prohibiting you from expressing your beliefs as an individual.

It is not the same thing at all. No one has any desire to take away your freedom of religion. If this were true, you would see organizations like the FFRF trying to ban religious billboards or other public displays of faith.

What's the difference between pluralism and secularism?
Hm. But it's just "secularism" if no religion is allowed to dominate - it'd be atheism if you were required to put a "There is no god" sticker on your car. A significant difference, in my opinion. The way you describe it, the Constitution would be an Atheist document, since nowhere in it is God mentioned.

You're right that, originally, the First Amendment only applied to Congress: "Congress shall make no laws respecting.." and so forth. This applied also to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etc. - the federal government was not allowed to interfere with these rights, but the local/state governments could. However, the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified after the Civil War, has normally been interpreted to "incorporate" these rights, applying them to the state and local governments as well. This means no state-advocated religions, and that states can't interfere with freedom of assembly, of the press, of speech, and so on.
I never said that other religions cannot be placed up there too. First, that should be left up to the state or locality. Remember, "Congress shall make no law..."

Secondly, the main point I was making is that by having no religious "stuff" up, you can't claim it to be neutral. Nothing religious means atheist when there is nothing up there because of deliberate action. It's not like my car reflects atheism just because I don't have an "I love Jesus" bumper sticker. But if I wasn't allowed to have that sticker, then the move would presume atheism as a dominating religion.

In the end, let the locality decide. Should they allow all legitimate religions equal access? Yes.
Do you realize that the "Nature's God" in the Declaration of Independence is not the Christian God (It's actually a Deistic reference)? Instead, it is an acknowledgment that not all of the Founders were Christians; some were Deists:

Anyhow, the problem I and most others have with the Ten Commandments being displayed is that it is tacit DISAPPROVAL of any other religions. We Christians are the majority in America. so we don't see what it's like to be on the other side of the issue.

For example, imagine if a teacher displayed the Islamic Virtues ( ). From a moral standpoint, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that list. However, a Christian student may be offended by the school's display of it.

(I just read the linked article and see that that point's already been made by Annie Laurie Gaylor)

Majority rule is pretty cool when you're in the majority. It ain't so hot when you're not. The First Amendment protects everyone.
Hey, I'm all for enforcing legal contracts within a marriage, but very few couples actually sign a contract which specifically addresses adultery. It's still usually considered grounds for divorce, though, and may influence who gets to keep the house, so it can have penalties.

I guess I should have said that I didn't favor *criminal* prosecution for adultery. There are old laws criminalizing adultery, still on the books in many states, but they're mostly unenforced/unenforceable.
Why not adultery?
Ben, why do you, presumably, agree with penalizing the breaking of legal contracts between companies, individuals, etc but not the breaking of a legal marital contract between individuals? It seems a bit inconsistent.

For the record, I don't believe a marital contract is purely legal or civil in nature, but since that component does exist, it's important to make people accountable to them. I don't think jail is necessarily the best solution of punishment, but our culture has for too long acted as though no-fault divorce (often the result of adultery) has had no effect on our communal well-being. That's simply not true. The family is the foundation of society. So permitting adultery without repercussion but not stealing or something of the like is just illogical. When we pick and choose which contracts are binding, with extremely rare exceptions in place, we get in a whole heap of trouble.
A note in passing...
I think the standing ruling is that religious displays, such as the 10 Commandments, are allowed when they are for a historical, civil, or educational purpose (or whatever - pertaining to the goals and history of the gov't entity at hand). The 10 Commandments would be fine in a history or philosophy class, but not in a science lab.

Obviously, religion has not been "stripped" out of the schools and other public places - kids are allowed to assemble around the flagpole to pray, pass out fliers for Bible studies (if they're allowed to pass out fliers at all), etc. You can find campus preachers on most public university grounds, and high schools and universities often rent out space to churches. For the most part, religious clubs are treated like any other club, and although there are some school administrators that get things wrong (favoring or penalizing religious clubs), generally things work out fairly.

As much as the 10 Commandments form an important part of Judeo-Christian history, I'm glad they are no longer legally enforced. I'd like to be able to work on the Sabbath, and I'm not fond of the idea of legal repercussions for some of the others (covetry, adultery).
If we demand government help in our favor we are setting precedents that can come back and bite. Surely we can be economical about our demands from Big Brother? If we make as big a deal about ten commandments posters as about human life, we are kind of diluting our claims about the later.
Does the display of the ten commandments really promote the interest of either Church or State. Has any soul been saved by them on the one hand? Do they form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense or promote the general welfare on the other.

Or is it just "No darned atheist is gonna tell us what to do or not do?" While that particular sentiment does to some degree strike a chord, does it in fact do any one any good?
Well Said, Billy
Keep up the drumbeat.