- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

In the latest culture war battle, the Ten Commandments have reached the Supreme Court.

One federal court has ruled that displaying the 10 standards God requires for righteousness is constitutional as it is part of the country’s legal heritage. Another federal court has ordered them removed from public property because their presence implies government endorsement of religion. The justices will decide if displaying the commandments in government buildings is constitutionally “kosher.”

There are some amusing things about this case. First, a group of conservative Christians is behind the effort. Not many, if any, Jewish groups are petitioning government for this right, though the Ten Commandments are uniquely Jewish. Moses was Jewish: The commandments preceded all the other laws.

No one ever obeyed them all. That’s why the ancient Israelites had to slaughter so many animals and offer blood and other sacrifices and once a year slaughter the Passover lamb to atone for their sin (for younger readers, sin was our condition before we became dysfunctional).

Christians, who sometimes seem so bellicose about these things, believe Jesus Christ fulfilled every one of the Ten Commandments and thus became the perfect “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Christians also believe “a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16) and “all who rely on observing the law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10). They believe anyone who wishes to be judged by the law falls short and is condemned.

If Christians believe such things, why would they “settle” for posting the Ten Commandments through which they believe no one can be saved? Why not lobby for the display of their favorite verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)? The display of that verse on public property would surely be ruled unconstitutional, but at least Christians would be consistent with what they actually believe.

What puzzles me is how those who want government to endorse their faith seem so ready to compromise their true beliefs to receive an honorable mention from the state.

Some seem willing to settle for a moment of silent prayer in government schools, a type of religious Miranda right, in which believing students have the right to remain mute.

Others are willing to place their God as co-unequal with almost anything, just to have his name publicly mentioned, even if that tends to dilute him so much he wouldn’t recognize himself, much less be familiar to others.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor defended the “under God” clause in the Pledge of Allegiance case the court dismissed last year, calling those words “ceremonial deism.” She defined the term as the use of religious idiom for “essentially secular purposes,” thus satisfying the court’s requirement that basically says Rudolph, Santa and Jesus may co-mingle on public property at Christmas (X-mas?) and Rudolph or Santa may be displayed separately or together, but not Jesus alone.

Is this what conservative Christians wish to settle for: a governmental genuflection or acknowledgement they exist? Do Christians wish government not only to set the parameters for pubic expression of their faith but to define the faith itself?

The courts have been wrong for at least a half-century in limiting religious expression, but the way to win back that right of expression is not mainly through courts, but through hearts.

The first option offers limited power and no guarantee of compliance. The other offers unlimited power and the possibility of changing lives. Which seems better from a biblical standpoint? WWJD (What would Jesus do)? WWMT (What would Moses think)?

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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