Introduction to the Ten Commandments:
What do people believe they say.
Legal challenges. Attempts to
10 Commandment statues.
Part 2 of three parts
What the public believes about the Ten Commandments:
There is a gap between what the Ten Commandments actually state, and what the
public perceives that they say. Most people incorrectly believe that all
Commandments govern moral behavior in society: to not lie, steal, commit
adultery, etc. In reality, the first four commandments relate to religious beliefs, not to behavior. They are
uniquely related to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They are offensive to the followers of
many other religions. Only the last six relate to moral behavior in society.
A widely believed misunderstanding is that the entire Decalogue forms the
foundation for the North American legal system. The statement by Sonny Crawford
and Pat Lazenby, grand presidents of the Order of Eagles is typical. [The
Eagles is the service group that sponsored the installations of hundreds
of monuments containing the text of the Decalogue across the U.S.] They wrote in
a joint statement:
"The Fraternal Order of Eagles has promoted the Ten
Commandments not in an attempt to impose religion on the masses, but rather in
recognition of their role in the very foundation of our legal system. ... Our very
laws are built on the bedrock moral precepts of the Ten Commandments."
is only partly true. The first half of the Ten Commandments are a series of
commands about the recognition of God. It is only the second half that deal with
actual behavior towards other humans. The latter are not unique to the Ten Commandants; they are common to almost all
religious systems and are seen in many religious and secular law codes -- some
of which preceded the Ten Commandments. I reality, law codes in the U.S. and the rest of
the western world are derived from a variety of sources, including the Ten
Commandments, Roman laws which were based on their ancient Pagan religion, English common law, laws of Native Americans, etc.
Some North Americans feel that everyone should follow all of the Ten
Commandments, whether they be Agnostic, Atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim,
Wiccan, etc. They push for the
Decalogue to be posted in schools, court houses, publicly owned parks, etc.
so that people will get the impression that the federal, state, and municipal governments and school boards
all promote Judeo-Christianity. Many overlook the effect of the first Commandments which, in effect, denigrate and condemn the beliefs of students who follow non-Abrahamic religions, or no religion at all.
Others feel that posting the Decalogue can generate religious conflict, and make some of the
public feel like second-class citizens. Some feminists, civil libertarians and
others find portions of the Ten Commandments repulsive. They favor restricting the display of the Decalogue
to religious and other private property and not displayed in or at government buildings, etc.
Legal battles about displaying the Ten Commandments:
Governments in the U.S., including public school boards, are required to remain neutral on religious matters. This
- They cannot promote one religion over another.
- They cannot promote a religious lifestyle over a secular one.
- They cannot promote a secular lifestyle over a religious one.
Posting the Ten Commandments clearly promotes the main Abrahamic religions -- Judaism,
Christianity and Islam. By requiring religious services on Saturday and
threatening people if they do not worship Yahweh, the Commandments denigrate followers of the remaining world religions and the religiously non-affiliated
which comprise by slightly under half of the human population. Thus, to be
constitutional, the Ten Commandments cannot be posted on public land in isolation. They can
only be displayed along with other sets of
religious laws, in order to meet the first criteria. They must be
accompanied with secular laws to meet the second criteria. That is, they would
have to be part of a cultural display.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the Fraternal Order of Eagles erected as many as
4,000 markers, statues, and monuments featuring the Ten Commandments in public
parks, government buildings, etc. Some were involved in the promotion of the
1956 film, The Ten Commandments, and were dedicated with Charlton Heston and Yul
Brynner present. They were the actors who played Moses and the unnamed Egyptian Pharaoh in the
There were occasional lawsuits filed prior to 2002 to force the removal of these
monuments from public land. In 2001. the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court order
that a Ten Commandments monument in Elkhart, IN, be removed. It
later refused to hear similar cases. Conflict escalated in 2002-NOV, when U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled
that the presence of Chief Justice Moore's Ten Commandments monument in the
Alabama state courts building "constitutes government
endorsement of religion."
Chief Justice Moore refused to remove the monument. He was later relieved of his judicial responsibilities. The monument was subsequently removed by others. However, his refusal to follow the court order gained him so much public support that he was re-elected as chief justice years later.
2001, dozens of lawsuits have been launched across the U.S. in an attempt to remove Ten Commandments monuments and displays. Many have been
launched by branches of the American Civil Liberties Union in
different states, and by Americans United for Separation of Church
USA Today reported in 2004:
"Monument opponents say that America's increased [religious] diversity
accounts for many of the lawsuits. 'The religious motivation (of the
monuments) was [originally] not as obvious when there weren't as many religious
minorities or people with no religion,' says the Rev. Barry Lynn, director
of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.' The lawsuits
are occurring 'because [opponents] now feel they have a shot at winning. But
the cases are a declaration that [the monuments are] important, too'.'"
"The case Wednesday [2004-SEP-15] by a federal appeals court in St. Louis
reflects the issues in many of the disputes. On one side, John Doe, an
unidentified atheist and ACLU member in rural Nebraska, said the Ten
Commandments monument in a park in the town of Plattsmouth 'alienates' him
and makes him feel like a 'second-class citizen,' according to court papers.
The monument -- a 5-foot granite slab presented by the Eagles in 1965 --
amounts to 'Judeo-Christian' religious instruction, Doe argues. Doe, who
filed suit anonymously to try to avoid a backlash in the town of 6,800, has
won in a lower court." 1
One woman's personal quest:
Sue A Hoffman is the author of the book: "In Search of God and the Ten Commandments: One Person's Journey to Preserve a Small Part of America's God-given Values and Freedoms." 2 It was published during 2014-JUN. She spent thirteen years traveling around the United States searching out and photographing the 184 known existing Ten Commandment monoliths.
She is in favor of preserving all 184 and is strongly opposed to the removal or relocation of any of the monuments from public land. In mid-2014, there were three active lawsuits based on the principle of separation of church and state contained in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was written to create a "wall of separation" between governments and religious faiths.
Two monoliths were subsequently removed and relocated off of public land. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (Americans United) have taken the lead in promoting these cases. Ms. Hoffman blames this opposition to "atheist organizations," and seems to see the conflict in terms of anti-religious groups battling with patriotic Americans. She may not be aware that the head of Americans United is Rev. Barry Lynn, and a minister in the United Church of Christ. 3
- Richard Willing, "More courts hearing Commandment battles," USA
Today, 2004-SEP-16, at:
- Sue A Hoffman, "In Search of God and the Ten Commandments: One Person's Journey to Preserve a Small Part of America's God-given Values and Freedoms" (2014). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Amazon.com customers rated the book with 4.8 stars out of 5. Amazon sells it in paperback format for US$ 41.46. Less expensive used copies can often be obtained .
- "Barry Lynn," Americans United, at: https://www.au.org/
Copyright © 2004 to 2016 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-SEP-22
Latest update: 2016-NOV-23
Author: B.A. Robinson