The Ten Commandments have no place in an Ohio courtroom, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week. The federal judges insisted a poster featuring the Decalogue constituted “an explicit endorsement of religion.” Left-wing groups hope similar judicial sentiment prevails in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia, where a lawsuit is in the works to force schools to tear down displays that enjoy support from the local community.
Framed copies of the Old Testament precepts hang in Giles County’s five schools, a reflection of the faith tradition of this rural jurisdiction of 17,000 bordering West Virginia. The prints were removed in December after the schools’ attorney received a complaint from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation alleging constitutional violations. At a January school board meeting, a crowd of 200 persuaded the five-member board to reverse the decision. The displays were rehung the next day.
Two sets of parents have stepped forward to claim the displays are offensive, opening the door for the foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union to launch a legal challenge. “We expect to win handily,” foundation Co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor told The Washington Times. The groups insist the separation of church and state prohibits the Ten Commandments from appearing in the public square, a doctrine premised on a fundamental misreading of the works of the Founding Fathers.
The Framers envisioned a nation in which citizens would be free to practice any religion or none at all. The religion abolitionists waste no time bolstering their case with Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists Association stating, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
Seldom are words taken out of context with an effect so alien to their intent, for it’s clear Virginia’s leading statesman was referring to the need to forbid the former Colonies from showing favor to particular Christian denominations. Enemies of religion conveniently ignore other Jeffersonian writings that place his famous letter in context. For example, Jefferson believed widespread faith was essential for the success of the American experiment: “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?”
If the House of Representatives - the people’s house - is free to begin daily sessions with a religious invocation, public schools that choose to mount the Ten Commandments for display ought not to be accused of violating the Constitution. Those who find such displays troublesome should run for the school board to push for change instead of running to activist judges to impose their will on the community.