AGAINST DISPLAYING TEN COMMANDMENTS IN GOVERNMENT CENTER
1. MOTIVATION IS TO PROMOTE RELIGION
Interviews in the Charlotte Observer and other media show that the proposal
was inspired by the preaching of an evangelical minister. The proposal is
not being put forward by any legal association, historical society, or arts
group to promote law, history, or art. This religious intent, effect, and
entanglement violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause.
These three pronged criteria were laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lemon v.
Kurtzman (1971), the so-called “Lemon Test”. In Stone v. Graham (1980) the
U.S. Supreme Court threw out a Kentucky law requiring the posting of a copy
of the Ten Commandments on walls of each public school classroom in the
state. Displays of the Ten Commandments at county courthouses were found
unconstitutional by federal district courts in Harvey v. Cobb County, Ga.
(1993) and Anderson v. Salt Lake City (1972).
2. AMERICA WAS NOT FOUNDED ON CHRISTIANITY
The myth of some idyllic religious past to which we must now return is
based on phony colonial history. Roger Finke and Rodney Stark in their
book The Churching of America 1776-1990 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers
University Press, 1992) report general agreement among historians that in
the colonial period no more than 10 to 20 percent of the population
actually belonged to a church. The rate for Southern colonies was a low 12
percent partly as an artifact of slavery and was 20 percent if only whites
are considered--- on a par with the other colonies. Jon Butler’s book
Awash in a Sea of Faith (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990) agrees
with those figures. Butler further points out that during the Revolution
75 percent of the Anglican ministers left their parishes because they
supported or were supported by the Crown, and that patriots ransacked all
but one of the Anglican churches in the American colonies. George
Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Ethan
Allan were Deists rather than Christians. Revolutionary War polemicist
Thomas Paine wrote a critique of Christianity, The Age of Reason.
3. COMMANDMENTS VERSUS RIGHTS
The concepts of democracy, trial by a jury of one’s peers, religious
freedom, and inalienable rights cannot be found in the Bible. Rights in
the Bible are not inherent, but bestowed. Since the Bible’s basic
cosmological model is monarchical, any rights that do occur are by the
sufferance of the monarch. Thus any and all grantable rights are equally
revocable. There are arbitrary bestowal criteria to a “chosen” people.
Not even the right not to be killed is uniformly secure: Abraham turns his
knife aside from his son Isaac only on a command from God, not because of
the rights of a potential victim (Genesis 22: 2, 9, 10, and 12).
4. RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS INTIMIDATE AND GIVE FALSE AUTHORITY
At a recent (August 25) Charlotte City Council meeting a black lady pleaded
for a traffic light in her community saying that it was not right to take
into consideration the low moral condition of her neighborhood. Government
should make decisions based on their merits and should not be in the
business of forgiveness of sins. The presence of such symbols would only
increase such feelings of inferiority, invidious discrimination, and
disempowerment. On the other hand, such symbols give other people instant
respectability and false authority. To me, they are like waving a magic
wand to make the city’s problems go away.
5. MOST COMMANDMENTS RELIGIOUS OR SEMI-RELIGIOUS
The first four commandments: no other gods, no graven images, not take
name in vain, and remember the Sabbath are wholly religious in nature
unrelated to any civil or criminal law. That is 40 percent of the
commandments. Two other commandments: the fifth commandment to honor thy
father and mother, and the tenth commandment not to covet are
semi-religious social and psychological norms which would have to be
enforced by thought police. Joseph Lewis in his book The Ten Commandments
(New York: Freethought Press Association, 1946) notes that Martin Luther
said, “‘honor thy parents’ does not refer to fellow men, but vice-regents
of God.” Lewis also claims that the tenth commandment really is against
an “evil eye” practice of witchcraft rather than against envy as we know it
6. SECOND COMMANDMENT AGAINST GRAVEN IMAGES NOT CATHOLIC
The second commandment against graven images has been omitted from the
Catholic Decalogue. The Hebrew and Protestant versions even go so far as
to prohibit “any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above, or that
is in earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4,
Deuteronomy 5:8). Display of Moses on a wall would clearly violate this.
This could even prevent public support for representational visual art
altogether, close movie theaters, and justify the confiscation of all
7. JESUS CITED ONLY FIVE OF THE ORIGINAL
COMMANDMENTS AND PREFERRED GOLDEN
In Mark 10:19 Jesus said, "Thou
knowest the commandments, Do not commit
adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear
false witness, Defraud not, Honor thy father and
mother." Thus he omitted five of the original
Ten Commandments--- most notably those dealing
with God and the practice of religion---- and
added a new one of his own. Elsewhere, in Matthew
22:36-40, Jesus replied that the greatest
commandments were the golden rules rather
than any of the Ten Commandments.
8. COMMANDMENTS EVOLVED RATHER THAN SET IN STONE
A forgotten set of Commandments in Exodus Chapter 34 was used by the early
Hebrew tribe and antedates the present Decalogue by many centuries. This
set of Commandments not only proves the antiquity of the Biblical
narrative, but is indisputable evidence of the evolutionary process of
ethical and moral concepts. These covenants deal only with the most
primitive form of ritual duties and have no moral implication whatsoever,
such as may be attributed to the later Decalogue. Portrayal as fixed
tables of stone totally mischaracterizes this historical growth.
9. AUTHENTICITY OF PENTATEUCH HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE
The opening five books of the Bible or “Pentateuch” are of highly
questionable authenticity. The “book of law” was discovered in the reign
of King Josiah in 621 B.C.E. (2 Kings 22), over 600 years after its
putative author, Moses, lived. Some scholars believe this was only the
book of Deuteronomy but possibly it was all or parts of the other books as
well. The first observance of Passover was commanded by Josiah (2 Kings
10. BRUTAL AND UNFAIR PUNISHMENTS
Robert Ingersoll notes in Some Mistakes of Moses (Buffalo: Prometheus
Books, 1986) that when Moses descended from Mount Sinai three thousand men
were butchered for practicing idolatry (Exodus 32: 27-28) before the
commandment against it had even been given to them. Besides heresy, the
Bible also prescribes death for working on the Sabbath, cursing one’s
parents, and for adultery. The second commandment extends punishment “unto
the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 20:5, Deuteronomy 5:9) thereby
visiting the sins of a father on his great-great grandchildren. How can
the City Council hold up the Ten Commandments as exemplary law?
Mr. Senyszyn lives in Charlotte, NC and is a member of American Atheists. He received the 1997 First Amendment Award from American Atheists in recognition of his dedicated involvement in defending state-church separation.
In the Summer of 1997, Charlotte City Councilman Don Reid proposed posting the Ten Commandments at City Hall (coincidentally just before the fall elections.) Jim Senyszyn wrote this article for that occasion. On June 18, 2020 the US House of Representatives voted to allow states to post the commandments in schools and other government buildings.
On November 24, 2020 the Charlotte City Council
voted resoundingly 10-1 to continue its policy of NOT displaying the Ten
Perhaps the 106th congress should read Mr. Senyszyn’s article too.
© 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 by American Atheists.