The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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The Ten Commandments and the U. S. Constitution

© 1999 Fred M. Fariss All Rights Reserved
Published by Permission


The verbal battle rages on as to the issue about placing the ten commandments in public schools and other public institutions. From the right-wing side of the fence, America is going to Hell in a hand-basket because the ten commandments have been removed from the classrooms.

From the left-wing side of the fence, placing the ten commandments in the classrooms and other public institutions is a violation and a trespass into the most precious area of American government - the separation of church and state.

In the United States, we pride ourselves on "freedom of religion" to worship God as we see fit. Our constitution declares different religions may exist along side of each other in peaceful coexistence. The doctrine of the "separation of church and state" means that the government takes no position or alignment with any particular religion. The only position on religion the constitution takes is the protection of any religious infringement upon another religion which denies that particular religion the right to the "freedom to worship as they see fit." This not only applies to the physical institution of a given religion, but also to the conceptualization of their religious ideas which is the profound foundation for the structure of that particular religion.

When a set of ideas is elevated to a place of dominance to define the scope of religion, as an absolute, this is a violation of the constitutional presupposition that maintains the position of the separation of church and state. Just because the founding fathers held to a personal and particular religious persuasion, does not mean, or does it intend that their belief in a particular religion should be the model of which the government should follow, promote or protect.

Be aware of the fact, that the founding fathers did not dictate a particular religion to be recognized in the constitution, is evidence of their neutrality on the subject. The founding fathers were not anti-religion. They definitely were opposed to the merger of religion and government. They definitely were against a state-sponsored religion. This is clear and beyond doubt.

The ten commandments are statements of religious beliefs about God and morality. To recognize this, sets the boundary for the intent and definition of the content of the ten commandments as to its orientation as a document about religion. In the light of the U. S. constitutional prohibition of the merger of the state and religion, this makes the ten commandments tainted by virtue of its intent - the precepts about God and morality. Some people would want to say that the ten commandments take a neutral position about God and morality with no reference to a particular religion. Others would want to say that the ten commandments are an universal expression about God and morality. Upon close examination, one can discover that the ten commandments are not an universal expression, but to the contrary, the ten commandments are a very prejudiced statement of absolute opinion. The implications behind the ten commandments are a commentary about the religion and the God it represents. The statements of morality in the ten commandments are predicated upon the authority of the God presented in the opening commandments.

The big question is: Which God is spoken about in the ten commandments? The next question is: Which religion represents him to be their God? Almost everyone knows the simple answer to these questions - the God of the Jews and Christians. In fact, there are two different renditions of the ten commandments - one format written by the Jews, and another format written by the Christians. This raises another thorny question: If we do place the ten commandments in the classroom, which format deserves to be placed there as the absolute representation of religious truth?

Placing the ten commandments in the classrooms across America, immediately, eliminates the opportunity for any other religion to make a statement about their God and morality for placement in the classroom. It is very apparent that the God represented in the ten commandments is not the God of the Muslims, the Hindus, or any other religion in the world. In fact, the God of the ten commandments is very demanding and jealous, that he commands, in the ten commandments, that no recognition be given to any other God. Those, who want the government to place the ten commandments in the classrooms across America, are making an open statement of rejection of all those who recognize and worship the God who is not the God of the Jews and the Christians. Carry the intent of this idea far enough, and you will end up with a state religion based upon those who are in control of the political power.

Let it be remembered that the second section of the ten commandments that have to do with "morality" is predicated upon the first section of the recognition and interpretation of whom God is and to what extent one should limit himself in that recognition. Those who want to use the "morality" commandments, in the ten commandments, do not understand that different world religions would interpret those morality commandments in a different way than what the Jews and Christians has historically interpreted them.

When one begins to look at the "morality" commandments from the perspective of another world religion who holds to a different concept of God, it creates a conflict that assaults all reason. Just look at the confusion that would result because we embraced the "morality" commandments from a view of another world religion. To be fair, in the classroom, the teacher would have to reference all of the commandments to all world religions. Specifically, the "morality" commandments are about: the Sabbath, honoring parents, adultery, killing, lying and coveting.

Let's consider briefly the problems with the "morality" commandments placed within the ten commandments.

The Sabbath -

This is a day to be kept holy unto the God of the Jews and the Christians. Just for example, how will the Hindus respond to this commandment? Hindus are polytheistic. The God of the Jews and Christians, so far as I know, is not one of their Gods. It appears that the God of the Muslims is not the God of the Jews and Christians. It would be sacrilegious for them to obey this commandment. Other world religions would have the same problem. Remember. All the commandments have equal demand and application. The question is: Which God? Which day?

Honor Parents -

Different religions and cultures have a different point of view about what it means to honor parents. Many world religions still hold to the parent's arrangement of marriage of their children. Are Jews and Christians in America breaking this commandment by not arranging their children's marriage? Is this the root of all our problems in this country? Reports about countries who have arranged marriages are more stable and lasting. Today, in many religions and cultures, the parents are totally dominant and controlling over their children. Should we embrace that approach as to what it means to honor your parents. Maybe the other world religions are right. In many religions and cultures of the world, the man is the sole power of authority in the family and society. Are those religions aligned to a different set of commandments? Is this what we want in America?

Adultery -

What about those branches of Christianity and other world religions who practice polygamy? According to the ten commandments, they are practicing adultery! Is it a denial of the recognition of the freedom of religion, when one government will refuse to let a foreigner of a different religion, who practices polygamy, to bring his four wives with him when he visited this country? Is the government afraid that its citizens will abandon their religion for polygamy? Are, is it a situation that those who possess the ten commandments have the sole power to judge what is "right" about any and everything? Does the commandment "Thou shall not commit adultery" apply to all situations of implication? Is it an act of adultery, when an actor/actress participate in a "love making" scene in the movies, on stage or in books? Suppose the actor/actress are married in real life, and they are "making love" in the movie, is this adultery or not? Think of the many advertisements that use sexual lust as a motivation to sell their products. How can the teacher in the classroom make this point of morality clear when there is so great a contradiction between cultural practice and moral code set forth in the ten commandments?

Furthermore, is it not true, that whosoever is not "making love" in the sex act, is indeed, making lust, which is adultery according to the words of Jesus (Matthew 5:28). For many years, in the forty-eight states in the United States of America, it was against the law to practice oral or anal sex, even in marriage. About half of those states have repealed the law.

When the students want to know the meaning of the ten commandments, who will tell them? Will it be the teachers? By what criteria will they use to fulfill their duty?

Killing -

Of all world religions, Judaism and Christianity have been known for their "holy wars" fought in the name of God, who is the supposed author of the ten commandments. What about those present world religions who readily hang someone for acts that in our country we would not even arrest them. Whose right? Their religion? Or ours? There are those Christians who are against capital punishment - the death penalty - when the Bible clearly commands it for certain crimes. This is the same Bible that gave us the ten commandments. To place the ten commandments in the classrooms across America is a statement about God and morality. It is a denial of the right to "freedom of religion" as a principle, applicable anywhere in the world as the ultimate expression of democracy. If one wants to declare a statement of morality apart from religion, there are other formats that might be considered.

Lying -

The most powerful model we have in our country for lying is the politicians. We don't want children to lie until they are eighteen. Then after that, they can become politicians and lie all they want too as a way of life. The top dogs always want the underdogs to tell the truth so they can manipulate and control the underdog. There is a naiveté among the common people who innocently tell all to their own destruction. The state of mind of the confessional is a way to teach people to be responsible and accountable to everyone else, but themselves.

Coveting -

The root meaning "to covet" is "to desire" or to "to crave." If one were to take this commandment literal, in our modern world, it would create chaos. Think of all of the advertisements, etc., that invite people to covet. Coveting is the American way of life!

Afterthought

The hypocrisy of the moralist is in wanting to project an ideal morality, codified in the ten commandments, while at the same time they live by a different set of standards. Their failure to accomplish the application of the morality of the ten commandments is justified through their claims of personal weakness and ineptitude. The ultimate court of appeal for the moralist is religion. Judeo-Christian religion is founded upon a presupposition about the nature of God and man. It is this presupposition that is the issue, more so, then the separation of church and state. To approach morality from a nonreligious premise is to ignore or negate the implied issue in the supposition about the nature of God and man. If human beings are intrinsically evil and reprobate, which places them beyond the pale of self-rectitude, then the magical answer to their dilemma is a higher power who possesses all the attributes which humans lack. The big question is again: Which higher power? Which code of morality? And according to whom?

It is apparent. The founding fathers understood this problem from their own experience as well as from history. Electing one religion to be aligned with the state and it will not only control the moral climate of the country, but it will eventually take control of the political process. When this occurs, the country will take on politically the moral and philosophical presuppositions of that particular religion which will suppress on all religions, even to the point, to annihilate them. History is a resounding record of this sad and vicious story. The present reality is: if Christians had their way, the only religion in the United States would be Christianity and it would be the state religion!

© 1999 Fred M. Fariss All Rights Reserved