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Ten Commandments letter to the editor

July 24, 2005

I live in a mid-sized MidWestern community with a good newspaper, The Pantagraph, which does a good job of publishing editorials from community leaders.  A local pastor wrote one of those “We’re a Christian nation, the Ten Commandments are the basis of our law, etc.” editorials.  This is my response:

Dear Editor,

I just read Rev. Knight Wells’ 16 July ‘From The Pulpit’ editorial; “Commandments basis of our legal traditions.”  He writes: “The Ten Commandments have been the basis of our legal and constitutional traditions since this nation began.”  Then he quotes Andy Rooney’s list of biblical engravings on buildings all over Washington.

If Rev. Wells’ point is that our country would do well to embrace Christianity, he has every right to make it.  But he’s flat wrong about American legal tradition.

The United States Constitution, not the Ten Comandments, is the foundation of our legal system and traditions.  Other than a reference to the date, our Constitution mentions God exactly zero times, while deriving the right of governance from the people. 

Some (not all) of the founding fathers were men of faith, but their recent experience had convinced them that the government should not be in the religion business.  They wrote this insight into the FIRST Amendment. 

The Ten Commandments may be a fine thing, but the first four are plainly sectarian.  Also, the popular version derives from a movie promotion campaign some years ago.  Read the unvarnished King James Version in Exodus 34 – that would be the version our founding fathers knew best.  Then ask yourself; “Is it the basis of constitutional law?”

If we have heard enough quotes from Andy Rooney, let me quote James Madison: “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.” (1803)

The Constitution does protect religious displays on private property, at private expense. 

Thank you, – GW
(Of course, I couldn’t sign it, “Decrepit Old Fool.”  Such are the differences between blogging and editorializing on dead trees.)

Categories: Religion
  1. July 25, 2005 at 08:06 | #1

    Well thought out and well said!

  2. July 25, 2005 at 14:48 | #2


    Thank you for this, it is clearly one of the best rebuttals of the current meme that the TC is the basis of all our laws, and our Constitution.

    One can be religious and still realize that the US Constitution is a secular document based on secular principles and morality, without the requirement of a religious doctrine or belief system

    Thanks again!

  3. July 26, 2005 at 02:04 | #3

    DOF, what is your real name, BTW?

  4. Lucas
    July 26, 2005 at 03:07 | #4

    Speaking as his son, I can say that his name is Gregarious Whiner, which, for obvious reasons, he frequently abbreviates GW.  Oh the pain of growing up as a Whiner…  All the kids made fun of me in school.

    I often wonder what, exactly, these “ten commandments are the basis of our law” types’ point is.  Honestly, what does it matter, from a legal point of view, whether our laws have their origin in religion?  If these religion-based laws make it illegal for government to display religious icons (as the law-defined interpreters have ruled they do), then the origin makes little difference from a legal perspective.  If these people want to claim that the supreme court shouldn’t worry about the law, then I see no reason to listen to what they have to say.

  5. July 26, 2005 at 03:31 | #5

    Gotcha. Great article Greg.

  6. July 26, 2005 at 08:06 | #6

    Speaking as his son, I can say his real name is Gregarious Whiner

    Smart-ass.  When the Catholic Church becomes an international atheist organization, I shall be its new Pope, and I will have your disrespectful self locked in a tower. 

    My real name is George Wiman, but I seldom use it online because it doesn’t sound smooth and suave like “Decrepit Old Fool.”  I have been meaning to put it in the “About” section like Les Jenkins does on SEB.  Next time I edit the template.

  7. July 28, 2005 at 06:51 | #7

    Nicely said, DOF—er, Greg—um, George.  DOF.

  8. August 3, 2005 at 10:46 | #8

    Excellent rebuttal.

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