In The ACLU We Trust

A fitting blast from the past.  2003 JD’s Bunker.

I find the 10 Commandment debate quite interesting.  As far back as I can recall, they’ve been displayed in my home.  My parents had them displayed prominently.  Seeing them and reading them to some extent was unavoidable during a day’s routine when I was growing up.  Within a few feet of where I now sit pecking out this essay, a plaque containing the Commandments hangs on a wall.  I wonder about why the debate is so great concerning their public display in an Alabama courthouse.  I’m not so sure that this is a debate about the separation of church and state.  This is an area, by all measures, of murky waters in constitutional law.  I’m not a lawyer, however, just as I’m not a theologian so my views on such things come from what life’s lessons have taught me.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. “ – Amendment to Article I of the United States Constitution

I tend to interpret things literally.  This probably comes from many years of being an Army noncommissioned officer and overburdened with piles of regulations on how one should behave and trying to interpret them for daily application.  Even in those times, things were never clear and we tended to interpret the rules so they conformed to our situation and beliefs.  It’s what humans do.  So, as I read the above part of the Constitution, I’m perplexed as to why there is even a debate about the separation of church and state and why there are so many “legal” interpretations on the subject.  If you read this as I read it, then there can be no legal rulings on the Church-State issue because the Constitution prohibits Congress from making any laws regarding religion.  If there can be no laws to interpret, then how can there be judicial decisions made regarding the matter?  That’s a question for you to ponder.  I think however, that there is more to this issue than legal wrangling.

Sometime ago, we had an upheaval of sorts in the Army.  Notable people were doing things they shouldn’t do.  We determined that many of these problems happened because we were losing track of our values.  As the Army is prone to do, we hammered the core values into everyone and reminded them of the importance of the values in what we do each day.  A colleague and I were discussing this matter one day, specifically the Army’s leadership decision to give each soldier a card with the values listed on it and one to place on their identification tag chain.  Some noncommissioned officers were vocally upset that they should have to wear reminders of how one should behave attached to a chain around their necks.  While wondering aloud why this bothered them so much, my friend told me, “It’s the kicked dog that barks the loudest.”  It’s a problem to have a reminder of how one should behave hanging around your neck, especially if how one should behave stands in contradiction to how one actually does behave.  A constant reminder of how one should behave and conduct oneself is a good thing and its value proven so by our Army every day of its existence.

Plenty of organizations have worked over the years to remove any reference to God from our government.  I find that quite interesting for a country with a national motto of “In God We Trust”.  I’m curious, in my typical cynical way however.  Maybe the issue here really isn’t about religion, so much as it’s about what religion (all of them actually) teaches.  And that’s how to behave.  Is there a real Church-state debate here or is it the kicked dog syndrome.  Maybe, some people do not like a daily reminder that they shouldn’t lie, steal, kill, covet, commit adultery and that they should show respect to those who provided them entrance into this world.  That’s six of the Commandments right there.  Surely, these are not what’s causing us problems.  Maybe it’s the others.  Maybe it’s the cursing they like so the Commandment to not take God’s name in vain is the sticking point.  Remember to keep the Sabbath holy.  That means take Sunday off from work and focus yourself spiritually – recharge you batteries.  If we drag this argument out to its logical conclusion, the government will no longer be able to close on Sunday.  Doing so would be obeying a Commandment and therefore violate the separation of Church and State.  We also must remove the God reference from our national motto, our Pledge of Allegiance, the Supreme Court can no longer begin it’s day with God Save the United States and Congress shall not have an opening prayer each day.  To do any of these shows reverence to God, which is the first commandment.  While we’re at it, we’ll also have to do away with our calendar.

One of the accepted definitions of God is a person or thing of supreme value.  All of us have something we worship, maybe it’s self, maybe it’s money and power, but it’s something.  The problem as I see it is that some people do not want the reminder that just maybe there is something out there better than what it is they actually worship.

If you believe there is no God and it turns out that you are right, then you have nothing to be concerned about do you?  When you’re lying on your deathbed, have an ACLU lawyer read some constitutional law or better yet, Supreme Court Decisions over you.

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights… – from the Declaration of Independence

The first settlers of our country were fleeing religious persecution.  The founding fathers were very aware of that when they wrote our constitution, which prohibited Congress from making laws establishing a religion or restricting the free practice of it.  The Constitution’s purpose was to protect the Church and the practice of religion from the government not the other way around.

In our country, you are free to be an atheist and to say what it is you like regarding religion.  But as an atheist, you have no more right to stand on your soapbox and publicly declare that there is no God than do I to publicly declare that there is one.  You have no more right to insist that reference to God be removed from our country than I do to insist that it stay.

Is Judge Moore right or wrong, I’m not sure that I or anyone I know can answer that question.  I am certain of one thing, there needs to be a national showdown on this issue, because just as the Army had to revisit its values, our country needs to check it’s declining level of morality.  The 10 Commandments is a real good starting point.  Maybe if we printed them on the back of everyone’s driver’s license…

© 2003 J. D. Pendry

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