Saturday, July 2, 2005

You shall have no other gods before me.

The First Commandment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The First Amendment



In its latest ruling on church and state, the Supreme Court has once again tortured itself and the public (not to mention God, which the court increasingly wishes the public wouldn’t mention).

In one opinion, the court seemed to invoke a doctrine more suitable to good wine than good law.

A display of the Ten Commandments at the Texas state capitol building in Austin was found to be constitutional, because the 6-foot-tall monument had been there since 1961 and no one had complained about it. But framed copies of the Ten Commandments at two rural Kentucky courthouses were said by the slim majority to be unconstitutional because they were of more recent vintage and were displayed for the express purpose of advancing a particular religion.

While both votes were 5-4, one in favor of such displays and the other opposed, the court continues refusing to offer any standard for its rulings on religion.

As Justice Antonin Scalia noted, “What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle.”

The reason the Supreme Court has issued so many conflicting and confusing rulings on this and other subjects is that it has abandoned the Constitution as its only standard in favor of making law to suit its own purposes.

In this, the justices resemble violators of one or more of the Ten Commandments (and that includes us all): turning away from things that are designed to preserve, protect and defend us and ruling only as they see fit (see Judges 21:25).

The court ignores the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress, not the states, from “establishing” religion. By restricting what may be displayed on public property, the court also damages the “free exercise” clause. It erects a “no trespassing” sign for believers in God who wish to express that belief on public property, paid for by citizens of many and no religious persuasions.

In these increasingly God-free zones, one is prohibited from speaking well of the Deity, but under the “free speech” clause of the same First Amendment, one may speak ill of God without fear the authorities will cart you away.

While critics of these mostly antireligious rulings are right in scolding the court for its misinterpretation of the Constitution, do such persons also violate the will of the very God they claim to represent? Why, in fact, do such people feel the need for public displays representing their beliefs? Isn’t this a kind of false security, similar to airport security screeners?

Religious activists fool themselves if they believe public displays of the Ten Commandments reflect a more moral and less corrupt nation. One needs only to watch television to discern the level of our depravity.

God dismissed the visible sacrifices of the ancient Israelites when those sacrifices became rituals. In their hearts and behavior, they worshiped false gods. Their actions did not match their doctrines. Do those advocating more public displays of religion privately practice what they publicly preach? If they did, the influence of their proclaimed righteousness might reach all the way to the Supreme Court. Whether it did, or not, it would reach all the way to their God.

In his teaching about prayer, Jesus said something instructive for those who advocate public religiosity: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men… when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5)

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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