Ten Commandments Displays

While there have been dozens of rulings striking down Ten
Commandments
displays (another indication that federal judges need to be
appointed to the courts who are well-versed in original constitutional
understandings
); no ruling has been more publicized than that against Judge
Roy Moore in Alabama. In that case, the 11th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals
ruled that a 5,280 pound granite monument of the Ten Commandments could not
be displayed in the rotunda of the Alabama State Judicial Building.

The ACLU,
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Southern Poverty
Law Center filed suit against the Ten Commandments display on behalf of three
attorneys. And why did those attorneys want the monument removed? They alleged
that they had been “personally offended” by the monument and “as a result, suffered
direct injury.” A three-judge panel of the 11th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals
agreed with them and prohibited the display.

In order to reach their decision, the panel of federal
judges
transformed themselves into an ecclesiastical council of theologians.
They ruled that the version of the Commandments posted by Judge Moore was a
“Protestant” version and that “Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox
faiths use different parts of their holy texts as the authoritative Ten Commandments.”

Strange! I thought that “Do not kill” and “Do not steal”
meant the same regardless of the version! In fact, I am not aware of any person
in America who, after seeing the granite monument, would cry out, “I have
just seen the 9th command forbidding perjury, but it is a Protestant version
of the Ten Commandments that I just saw, so I cannot obey it for I am a Lutheran
(or a Catholic, or a Jew, or whatever).”

The 11th Circuit had ignored an elementary principle of law—and thus a fundamental
responsibility of the courts: establish the spirit and intent of a law before
making any ruling about it. Signer
of the Constitution
John Dickinson had explained the importance of this legal principle:

[N]othing is more certain than that the forms of liberty may be retained
when the substance is gone. In government, as well as in religion, “the
letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” 2 Cor. 3:6

Actually, the Ten Commandments themselves were the result of God’s demonstration
of this principle. When God delivered the Commandments, He told Moses “According
to the tenor of those words I have made a covenant with you” (Exodus 34:27).
That is, God Himself declared that the Ten Commandments were merely the general
theme (the tenor) of what He wanted – that is, “Don’t steal,” “Don’t
kill,” “Don’t commit perjury,” etc. were simply the summation
of over 600 laws given at or about the same time.

That these laws simply represent the spirit of all civil and criminal laws
was made clear by an elderly Texas woman, Esther Armstrong. Despite her advanced
years, Esther maintained a ministry in local prisons and jails, frequently visiting
the inmates, all of who considered her as their own grandmother. One day, one
of the “jail-house-attorney” inmates (a prisoner who has become obsessed
with the study of the law) told Esther in amazement: “Mama Esther? Did
you realize that there are over one-hundred thousand laws that will put you
in jail?” To which she promptly replied, “Do you realize that there
are Ten that will keep you out?”

Nevertheless, the federal judges refused to consider the general purpose of
the Commandments. Instead, they focused on theological minutia about which version
of the Ten Commandments was on display (which they apparently felt completely
competent to address) much in the same way that theologians of former generations
vigorously debated such useless and inane topics as how many angels would fit
on the head of a pin. Perhaps only a liberal activist judge, an ACLU attorney,
or a member of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (i.e.,
groups and individuals who have demonstrated their distaste for religion in
general) would make this “theological” distinction – as they did in
this case. I am quite sure that Judge Moore – just like 99.9 percent of Americans
– was not aware (nor would he have cared) that there were allegedly different
theological versions of the Commandments; as a judge he was concerned with general
behavior, not theology. Furthermore, I firmly believe that no matter which version
of the Ten Commandments Judge Moore would have displayed – whether Jewish, Catholic,
Protestant, or one of each – the same arguments still would have been used against
him.

The three theologians (Oops! My bad!!! I meant the three judges) in the 11th
Circuit who delivered the decision even personally impugned Moore, comparing
him to “those Southern governors who attempted to defy federal court orders
during an earlier era.” Amazing! Apparently in the minds of those judges,
Judge Moore’s displaying the Ten Commandments must be a sin akin to racism!
The three also forcefully pronounced to Moore a warning that when the time came,
he would obey their order to remove the Commandments.

Following the 11th Circuit’s decision, federal district judge Myron Thompson
(who originally ruled against Moore before the case rose to the 11th Circuit)
promptly issued his own order that the monument be removed – now! – even before
Judge Moore’s appeal to the Supreme Court had been filed. Judge Moore refused
to comply with that order, and hundreds rallied outside the court building in
an effort to prevent the removal of the monument. Dozens who exercised their
First Amendment right “peaceably to assemble and to petition the government
for a redress of grievances” were handcuffed and arrested, including an
elderly woman in a wheel chair – one among hundreds willing to resort to peaceful
civil disobedience in order to preserve respected symbols of our nation’s heritage
as well as the constitutional right to free exercise of religion. Amazing! Americans
are being arrested for trying to preserve the nation’s moral law rather than
break it!

This same type of peaceful civil disobedience eventually turned the tide in
the civil
rights
‘ protests of the early 1960s. When Americans saw blacks arrested
and beaten by police simply for sitting in the wrong seat on a bus, or going
to the wrong table in a cafe, public sentiment propelled legislators to action
to provide a political solution. Such may well be the effect of the current
arrests—if they continue for an extended period. Perhaps the current publicity
will cause Christians to stand up not only for this display but also for those
in their own local communities.

Interestingly, voices of condemnation against Judge Moore have been raised
around the nation, alleging that he refuses to follow “the rule of law.” Such
claims constitute some of the more civically-illiterate statements made in recent
years. Consider: in every student civics or government book in America is a
page on “How a Bill Becomes a Law.” Anyone who examines those pages will notice
that the judiciary has no role in making law; laws come from bills passed by
the legislature and signed by the president or governor. Since no such law has
been passed in this case, what “rule of law” is Judge Moore not upholding? Can
it actually be that these critics talking about “the rule of law” believe that
an order by a single unelected federal judge is actually the equivalent of a
law? Apparently so. Don’t misunderstand: this is not to suggest that judicial
rulings should be ignored based on the personal predilections of an individual
in a case; however, this ruling goes against every deeply embedded legal standard
in America’s common law, and Judge Moore’s refusal is not based solely on his
selfish or personal inclinations. (To learn how deeply the Ten Commandments
have been implanted into American law and traditions, read our legal
brief
on this issue.)

Following Judge Myron Thompson’s edict, the other eight justices on the Alabama
Supreme Court announced their unanimous opposition to Judge Moore’s position
and agreed to cooperate in the removal of the monument. Judge Moore was subsequently
suspended from his judgeship by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission for
his refusal to comply with the federal judge’s order.

Importantly, Judge Moore is elected (as are the other eight State Supreme Court
judges)
and therefore ultimately accounts directly to the people of Alabama, who can
have the final say on this issue. When that time comes, the decision of the
voters likely will not agree with the State’s other Supreme Court judges or
the State’s Judicial Inquiry Commission. Moore was already well-known for his
stand for the Ten Commandments before he was elected to the Supreme Court (he
had already won three legal decisions on the Ten Commandments at the time of
his election) and recent polls show that 77 percent of the State supports the
display.

The U. S. Congress is well aware of the situation in Alabama, and the House
has already taken direct action. Rep. John
Hostettler introduced, and the House overwhelmingly passed (260-161), an amendment that prohibits federal funds from being used to enforce
the judicial order against the display. Similarly, Rep. Robert
Aderholt
has introduced (and the House has twice passed) the Ten
Commandments Defense Act
, allowing State and local communities rather than
federal judges to have the final say in displays of the Ten Commandments; the
Senate Democrats have killed the bill each time. Sen. Wayne
Allard
(R-CO) has introduced a bill (S
1558
) that applies powers from Art. III, Sec. 2 of the U. S. Constitution
to restrict the federal judiciary’s right to rule on this issue, but the bill
is not likely to move unless Democratic Senators feel substantial pressure to
do so. The monument was eventually removed from the Rotunda and relocated in
a remote non-public room in the building. This is simply a reconfirmation of
the overall judicial message of recent years: if you must have a religious
expression
, it must be done in private (like pornography), not out in public
where others can see it.

By | 2017-03-30T16:19:59+00:00 December 31st, 2016|Categories: Issues and Articles|0 Comments