I love the Ten Commandments. I can recite them. I don’t always succeed in obeying them, but I still try, and I think the world would be better if we all did.
Having said that, I can still say this: The Ten Commandments do not belong in a state courthouse. But in late July, in Montgomery, Ala., they arrived in a big way.
In the still of the night, a two-ton monument featuring the Ten Commandments was trucked in and positioned in the rotunda of the state’s judicial building. The building houses, among other things, the Alabama State Supreme Court.
Roy Moore is the chief justice. He ordered the sculpture.
The next morning, he unveiled it in a small ceremony. “May this day,” he declared, “mark a return to the knowledge of God in our land.”
Wow. And I thought only Moses delivered the tablets.
When asked what gave him the right without even consulting the other Supreme Court justices to sneak a huge religious symbol into a clearly secular building, Moore, who helped pay for the sculpture, said, “I am the highest legal authority in the state and I wanted it there.”
Hmm. He must have missed the Bible study on humility.
Now, while I love and believe in the Ten Commandments, I also believe that Moore is wrong to do what he did. Plain and simple. There is an accepted separation between church and state in this country Thomas Jefferson demanded it be “a wall.”
Any Hindu, Buddhist or atheist entering the Alabama Judicial Building could rightly be squeamish upon seeing the words “I am the Lord, your God,” or “Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.”
Which Lord? Which Sabbath? What if you don’t believe in God? Can you feel confident about getting a fair hearing when a top judge has hung his religion on the door?
Judges are supposed to be impartial, quiet and blind in their justice. But Moore told me “it’s clear which god our forefathers referred to the God of the scriptures.” Hmm. That sounds a lot more like Sunday morning than Monday through Friday. OK. By now, you already have taken sides. Some will defend Moore with standard arguments:
– Our forefathers were Christians. That’s why they put “in God we trust” on the money.
Actually, that’s not true. Many of our forefathers were Deists. And “in God we trust” is a fairly modern addition to currency.
– You get sworn in on a Bible.
Yes, and many people feel uncomfortable with that, too.
– Separation of church and state is a myth.
Sorry. Not only did Jefferson use those exact words, but John Adams, the second president, said, “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion,” and James Madison defended “the total separation of the church from the state.”
– It’s what the majority of Americans believe, so what’s the problem?
Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere.
It is true, the largest percentage of religious Americans believe in the Ten Commandments. But with majority status comes a burden: being sensitive to the minority. A democracy only works if everyone is considered equal.
You can’t say, “Well, most of us believe in one God, so tough on you.” That’s the mentality our forefathers were running from when they came here. It is not, as some of the majority feel, a persecution of their faith.
Actually, Justice Moore is doing a disservice to his religion. He is making faith a wedge between people, instead of leaving it where it belongs, in the hearts of the practitioners.
No one can tell Jews and Christians not to believe. But Jews and Christians cannot tell others what to believe or to believe at all. Remember that the Ten Commandments never say “Thou shalt convert others.”
But the Bible does say, “Judge carefully, for with the Lord there is no partiality.”
That’s in Chronicles, Justice Moore. But apparently not on your sculpture.
Mitch Albom is the author of the bestseller “Tuesdays With Morrie.”