The Ten Commandments monument was removed from the Alabama state judicial building in 2003. Photo from Flickr/Angela Orlando

Charles Lewis: Alabama needs to fight for Ten Commandments

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  • October 4, 2018

The State of Alabama has had a controversial relationship with the Ten Commandments. Not so much its teachings but its physical representation.

It started with Roy Moore, then the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in the early part of the last decade, installing a 5,000-pound statue of the two tablets in front of his workplace.

The monument attracted lawsuits and eventually led to a higher court decision to remove the giant slabs. The federal court said it violated the constitutional prohibition on showing favour to one religion over another and the mixing of church and state. Moore refused to yield and lost his job in 2003.

In my view the federal court erred. Mentioning “God” does not violate the principle of church and state. Besides, God does not only belong to Christians.

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence states: “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” God is also mentioned in the pledge of allegiance as in “one nation under God…”

Unfortunately Moore, recently a failed Republican senate candidate, made an argument for the monument based in part on poor history. He justified its placement by saying the United States was founded on the life of “Jesus Christ.”

Moore seemed to forget that there are other monotheistic religions that believe in God but not Christ.

The founders of the United States were often more agnostic than religious. Thomas Jefferson, for example, rewrote the New Testament by taking out all the miracles of Jesus.

It would have been more accurate to say that the United States was built on the idea that no person or group of persons could ever hold absolute power that could result in stripping citizens, believers and atheists, of their God-given rights.

Now the Ten Commandments are back in the news, as Alabamians will vote in the November election to reinstate the tablets.

I hope the monument is reinstated. And I wish that would happen everywhere, even in secular Canada.

There is a genius to the Ten Commandments — a plan to create a harmonious society full of peace and respect to benefit all.

For example:

“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour’s.”

In an RCIA class years ago one female catechumen said she disagreed with this commandment because she thought her male neighbour was hot. Fortunately she was not on Mount Sinai when Moses was handed the tablets.

But think seriously about this for a moment. The prohibition seems quaint and puritanical, right? What is the harm of checking out the good-looking hunk of a husband or his beautiful wife? It is just looking, right?

But what if your wife or husband sees you? Or what if the neighbours see you? You have now sown discord. Suddenly you are making people uncomfortable. You have become that slightly creepy person who likes to leer.

Fortunately, most of us will never have a reason to envy our neighbour’s ox or ass. I believe noise bylaws would prevent that. But we could spend a lifetime jealous of any number of things. Jealousy of goods is poison. It put material good on a pedestal and forgets that human beings are more than the sum total of their goods.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”

Most people would never do this. Or at least they think they would never do this. Rather, we engage in what we think of as harmless gossip. Gossip too is poison: once released it can never be retrieved. That is why it is mortal sin, not a harmless pastime.

The prohibition on murder and theft may seem obvious but look around the horrors still taking place in the world and in our own city. Is it possible that everyone needs a reminder?

Even honouring the Sabbath is beneficial even if not used for worship. Imagine a world where all of us are workaholics: no time for family or friends or time to simply unwind. There are already too many miserable workaholics who are headed for burnout or worse.

Of course, taking God out of the Ten Commandments is absurd. It is He who gave us this blueprint for a good life, a holy life. He is the author. Every author deserves credit.

That idea of a creating deity still holding us in existence is part of the history of the United States and even Canada. Our Constitution states in its preamble: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”

Rather than fold to atheists and secularists, the people of Alabama and all believers should fight to keep God in the picture. After all, where would we be without Him?

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)

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