I’ve learned one thing for certain in writing this
column — if I want to get response mail, then I write about religion or
politics. In past articles, I’ve supported school prayer or at least a
moment of reflection. I also supported recitation of the pledge of
allegiance and the use of the phrase “God bless America” in public
schools. Some will then wonder why I agree with the decision to move the
Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of an Alabama courthouse to a
less prominent place in the building.
I was concerned when I first heard that the Ten
Commandments were being removed from the building. When more facts came to
light, I realized that the monument and its secretive night-time placement
were apparently done more for political reasons rather than to provide the
public with a historical perspective of the basis for the laws of this
country. So I have to oppose the way the monument was placed in the
courthouse, while supporting the concepts exemplified by the words
inscribed on the monument.
The Ten Commandments are displayed in the United
States Supreme Court as part of a historical presentation, along with
other artifacts. Lincoln’s second inaugural address is carved in the
wall of the Lincoln Memorial and relies heavily on theology. Few have
demonstrated against these words and their placement in federal buildings.
How you say something is as important as what you say. Often in my own
personal life, I’ve been told that I had support for the basis of a
concept, but people voted against the concept because of how I presented
the idea. I had a favorite saying when speaking with my students: “You
can say almost anything to me as long as you’re smiling when you say
Before writing this column, I took time to research
the historical origins of the Ten Commandments. I assume many of us have
this vision of Moses, played by Charles Heston, receiving the Ten
Commandments from God on Mount Sinai. My academic mind and research lead
me to believe that the Ten Commandments, as we now know them, evolved
along a path more complex than most of us realize. My research revealed
that the Bible doesn’t contain the Ten Commandments in present-day form.
Moses reveals the Ten Commandments in both the Book of Exodus and the Book
of Deuteronomy. They are not in today’s popular list form, but in
general cover the concepts we now look at as the Ten Commandments. I will
leave this topic to the religious scholars to debate in full.
The first four of the commandments center on a
religious belief in God. They are — no other gods, no graven images,
don’t use the Lord’s name in vain, and remember the Sabbath. The
commandments to honor thy father and mother and against coveting are
founded in both social and criminal law. The remaining commandments,
without question, are a foundation for the laws of our judicial system. It
is difficult to believe that the first four commandments don’t exist
when judges and juries make their final decisions on guilt or innocence.
Judges still use the swearing-in-phrase, “to tell the truth and nothing
but the truth, so help me God.” Wal-Mart
may open on Sunday, but I doubt if we will ever hold court on Sunday.
Certainly that historical exclusion was influenced by religion.
I received a form for jury duty this month, which I
completed and returned. In talking with a very prominent commonwealth’s
attorney at a recent political event, I mentioned the survey and that I
seldom get called to a jury because of my profession. He laughed and
stated certain groups like educators and social workers have a difficult
time getting through the selection process. Too liberal, I guess, for the
prosecution. Nothing in the survey ever asked if I believed in God or if I
would let that belief and associated teachings influence my decisions.
Those who need a monument at the front door to help them determine the
correct and just decision shouldn’t be on a jury. The participants in
the trial should be prepared intellectually, socially, and spiritually
before entering the courtroom. I would not support a monument of the Ten
Commandments erected at the door of every school, although I personally
believe they are the best set of rules for life on this earth.
A prominent atheist contends that our heritage was
not founded on a strong religious base because only 20 percent of the
early founders attended church. I would surmise that a like number would
hold true for regular church attendees today. Many people believe in the
existence of a higher power but don’t attend church on a regular basis.
There’s no question in my mind that this country’s founding centered
on a strong belief in God.
We are becoming a much more diverse nation. The
reality of living in a culture that has truly different views on religion
is upon us. In my own family, two of my children have married outside
their Catholic faith, to a Methodist and an Episcopalian. My friends and
fellow workers are of many faiths and from many countries. My son and
daughter-in-law are in the process of adopting a child from South Korea.
The face of this nation is becoming less monolithic with each passing
In church this week, Father Ciliniski’s homily,
based on Mark 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23, emphasized that what is formulated from
within a person should take prominence over that seen from the outside. I
contend that clothes really don’t make the man if the man doesn’t
exist in the first place. Placing the Ten Commandments in the rotunda for
all to see does little if those who enter haven’t already prepared
themselves for the task ahead.
there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different
view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending
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