10 Commandments Letter Exchange

Image of the Bill of Rights

I write letters to the editor of local newspapers I read. Usually something I read upsets me enough I have to respond.

I wrote in response to an article related to the Judge Roy Moore 10 Commandments legal case. Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court forced his religious beliefs on the citizens of his state by erecting a stone slab with the Holy Bible’s 10 Commandments engraved on it. At the time Moore had been ordered by a Federal Court to remove the Decalogue. Many conservative politicians, like State Rep. Mike Gilb (R-Findlay) fell over themselves to propose and vote on resolutions in support of Moore and the posting of the Decalogue in public buildings like courthouses.

I was surprised to learn that a Decalogue was posted in the Hancock County Courthouse and that Rep. Gilb saw nothing wrong with that.

The following exchange took place between September 22 and October 1, 2003, in the Findlay Ohio Courier newspaper. It was between myself and conservative friend named Mark.

Rep. Gilb’s proposal misguided

September 22, 2003

A former Findlay resident, I write today to express my thoughts on the story “Ten Commandments resolution propped” published Friday in the the Courier.

I assume State Rep. Mike Gilb is a lawyer. If correct then I would suggest he take a refresher course on Constitutional law.

His rationale for supporting the posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings is totally misguided and flies in the face of the real heritage of U.S. law.

Our government system and laws are based not on some sectarian Decalogue but on the traditions and history of the Roman, Greek, and British law and the philosophy of men like John Locke. Written law was founded first – to the best of anyone’s knowledge – in the Code of Hammurabi, the sixth ruler of the First Dynasty of Babylon, who ruled from 1792.1750 B.C. The Magna Carta had greater influence on our Constitution and legal system than the Ten Commandments.

In fact, if there were laws based on the first three of the Ten Commandments they would most likely be ruled unconstitutional if challenged in our courts. They would bump up against the most important fundamental right in the Constitution: the absolute right to believe whatever one chooses that derives from the First Amendment’s free exercise and free speech clauses.

James Madison, leader of the Constitutional Convention and drafter of the First Amendment, explained it as follows: “The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

Thomas Jefferson spoke out against attempts to claim that the law incorporated the Ten Commandments when he criticized judges for “lay [ing] the yoke of their own opinions on the necks of others by declaring that [the Ten Commandments] make a part of the law of the land.” John Adams also questioned the influence of the Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount on the legal system.

Just because the posting of the Commandments in public buildings like the Hancock County courthouse have not been legally challenged, that doesn’t mean such postings are legal or support our legal heritage. Only by ignoring history and pandering to the electorate would Gilb come to the opposite conclusion.

Doug Berger – Columbus

Communities have a right to standards

September 25, 2003

“Congress shall make no taw respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

I included the actual words of the first amendment as they are written for everyone to see.

Mr. Berger (letter, Sept. 22) suggested that Mr.(Mike)Gilb needed a refresher course in constitutional law. If one would just read the First Amendment they could conclude that Mr. Berger might need a refresher course in reading comprehension. Displaying the Ten Commandments does not infringe on the first amendment as it is not made into law; nor does it prohibit the free exercise thereof.

I am sure Mr. Berger would agree that a given community can set its own moral standard and display it publicly for all to see. That does not make it a law.

In some of his commentary on the first amendment, even Thomas Jefferson referred to the rights protected by the constitution as “God given” rights. Despite what anyone thinks we do have laws that were taken from the Ten Commandments: murder (thou shalt not kill), theft (thou shall not steal), and in some states adultry is grounds for divorce. Should these deemed unconstitutional?

Rush Limbaugh once wrote that morality cannot be denned by individual choice. Although I don’t believe our government should legislate our morality, I do believe that community standard is what governs our morality at a personal level. Displaying that standard is a must.

Mark S. – Findlay

Religious freedom somewhat limited

September 29, 2003

Mark S’s Sept. 25 letter mentioned that preventing the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings violated the First Amendment and community standards.

Mr. S couldn’t be more wrong. Posting the Ten Commandments in a public building shows favoritism to a particular religious sect, and that action violates our history of religious tolerance and prohibition against combining religion and government.

The courthouse is suppose to support impartial application of the law. That is why the symbol of justice is a blind woman holding a scale. No rational Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist or agnostic – each of whose beliefs are equally and fully constitutionally protected – could rationaily expect justice in courthouses displaying only the Ten Commandments. As Madison warned, “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?”

Judges must take an oath not to God but to impartial application of the law in all cases. Should a judge rule based solely only on his or her religious beliefs, those decisions would and should be overturned on appeal since they would deny the defendant justice. The 14th Amendment demands that all citizens get equal protection under the law.

An elected official allowing the posting of religious rules in a public building is establishing a religion just as sure as if a law were passed doing the same.

Christians have plenty of private and public areas where they can post the Ten Commandments. Removing the Commandments from public buildings will not keep any Christian from practicing his faith.

Community standards may lead to the creation of laws but they are not a good rule to use. Early in the 20th century, community standards were used to make laws prohibiting women from getting birth control information. Just like laws, community standards change as the community changes.

The First Amendment doesn’t allow people to practice their faith any way they like, anytime they like, or any place they like. It is somewhat limited, just as free speech can be limited in time, place, and manner.

Doug Berger – Columbus

Let communities post standards

October 1, 2003

Regarding Mr. Berger’s Sept. 29 tetter – where do I start? Impartial application of the law? Why don’t we try consistent application of the law. For purposes of the smoking ban, the work place is public domain – therefore, no smoking. However, for purposes of religion, the work place is private, and therefore is not subject to the establishment clause of the First Amendment. How can that be? Whatever happened to the right to “the free exercise thereof?”

The posting of any religous document does not make it law. However, it does indicate to all who live in that community what the standard of morality is. That is not a crime. Since a person’s right to practice his religion is not infringed upon, the Supreme Court and the federal government should stay out of it and allow each local municipality to govern itself accordingly.

I just knew you would bring the 14th Amendment into this debate. Equal protection, I agree. That is the law. However, no religion is being denied any rights due to the posting of a document that just depicts a moral standard. Atheists and agnostics do not have rights under the First Amendment as they are not established religions. They are the lack of religion. There is no protection to the absence of religion.

Mr. Berger has stated that any judge ruling based solely on religion should be overturned. ^ First, how would anyone know? Second, is he saying we should do away with murder and theft as crimes? They are forbidden by the Ten Commandments. Anyone conducting themselves according to the community standard will most likely never find himself subject to any court ruling. A community standard does not prohibit one’s right to “the free exercise” of any religion.

I don’t believe I said not allowing the posting of the Ten Commandments was a violation of the First Amendment. I believe I said posting the Ten Commandments does not violate the First Amendment. There is a difference.

Mark S. – Findlay

I did send a response in for his 10/1 letter but it was not published. It seems that Mark had the last word, but since this is my website, here is the text of the response I sent in to The Courier on 10/5/2003.

10 Commandments haven’t stopped murder

October 5, 2003

I would like to respond to the points made in Mark S’s letter published on October 1st.

Smoking is not one of the rights mentioned in the Bill of Rights. Religion is specifically mentioned. That is why smoking laws can be made and laws concerning religion are looked at closely. I agree that the state has an issue with prohibiting smoking on private property. However, that issue is unrelated to the issue of the posting of the 10 Commandments in public buildings.

Using our government to endorse religious rules as an example of so-called “standard of morality” is endorsing that particular religion even if it isn’t a law. In previous cases, involving posting the 10 Commandments in public buildings this fact becomes very clear.

The main purpose for posting the Ten Commandments is religious in nature. The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths. The Commandments do not confine themselves to secular matters, such as murder and stealing, but also talks about the religious duties of believers: worshipping the Lord God alone, avoiding idolatry, not using the Lord’s name in vain, and observing the Sabbath Day. See Exodus 20: 1-11; Deuteronomy 5: 6-15.

However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, these are not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.

The posting of Commandments under the auspices the state, in the case of the county courthouse, the Hancock County Commissioners, provides the “official support of the State” that the Establishment Clause prohibits.

It is telling that Mr. S is so strident in his support of the Bill of Rights, based on his comments about smoking laws, yet he would suggest that atheists and agnostics can’t be protected by those same Bill of Rights. I find that chilling. Removing the 10 Commandments from the courthouse won’t make murder and stealing right just as allowing the religious rules to be posted won’t make murder and stealing go away. A majority of our prison population are believers and the 10 Commandments didn’t stop them from committing their crimes.

Doug Berger – Columbus

The main point I was making is that the 10 Commandments, although a decent set of morals for a Christian, are not and should not be used as a basis for laws in our country. Posting them in public buildings, like courthouses, in fact violate everyone’s basic right to freedom of religion.

The government should respect all religious beliefs by remaining neutral in religious matters and posting the 10 Commandments is not a neutral act.