By Mark David Blum, Esq.
There is no such thing as ‘The Ten Commandments’. In fact, outside the Bible, there is no historical record whatsoever to substantiate the existence of Moses or the Exodus. But-for a single reference in the second book of the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments do not exist.
But, for the sake of argument, let us suppose they do …
Suppose all those years ago, some white dude who looked a lot like Charlton Heston climbed up Mt. Sinai (which does exist, I have seen it with my own eyes) and receive an engraved rock with just ten rules by which all mankind was to live. (This would be a surprise since mankind could not even follow God’s one law all those years earlier; something about not eating an apple – and now He wanted us to follow ten). For purposes of this discussion, let’s just assume that these ‘tablets’ are the root and basis for all law as we know it.
There still is no such thing as the Ten Commandments. The original tablets were last seen in the custody of Solomon and supposedly stolen by one of his sons and stashed in a small church in what is now Ethiopia. Though they contained the word of God, these tablets are now long gone from the face of the earth.
Anything we see today can be nothing more than an artist’s rendition of how the artist perceives the Ten Commandments. Whether in a court house in Arkansas or on the wall in a post office in North Syracuse, the Ten Commandments we know and love today are just the subjective images of the maker. They are not real.
So, I say again; there is no such thing as the Ten Commandments.
Then why is the United States Supreme Court involved in this discussion? Because of Christians.
It seems that Christians, one of a few spin-off cults birthed a few thousand years after the Lord delivered the Law to the Jews at Mt. Sinai, have adopted and taken the Ten Commandments for themselves. Despite having their own gospel with such ridiculous laws like ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘love thy neighbor’, in today’s America, Christians are demanding installation of monumental Ten Commandment tablets as though doing so enshrines the Word of God on the land upon which it sits. As Christians continue their quest to make the Ten Commandments something of their own, the concept of God’s Laws as being at the root of all law is being advanced throughout the nation. Christians are building monuments faster than the Courts can tear them down.
As much as I love to share with my brother Christians, I should be able to do so at my convenience, not when they wish to take something from me. God did not give anything to the Christians but the concept that the innocent must die for the sins of the guilty. Oh, God also made them sit around and wait and wait for His son’s return.
But, the question becomes … why is this a problem here in the United States? What is the big deal if a monument is erected in the public square paying homage to the Laws of God or the Laws of Murphy?
There was a laundry room in an apartment building in which I once lived. In my building, the laundry room was downstairs and shared by all. One day, while doing my housewifely duties, I noticed a large wooden cross hanging on the wall of the laundry room. I took it down. Next time I went down there, it was back up again. I took it down again. This game went on for months until I found out that my opponent was none other than my catholic bride.
A cross in the laundry did not offend me. I did not feel oppressed by the presence of Jesus. In fact, I hardly noticed Jesus at all. If I did, I would have asked him to call me upstairs when the machine stopped instead of me having to run up and down every so often.
Crosses are visually offensive to Jews. Personally I would rather see a crucifix than a cross. Of course, the first reason is the obvious delight in being reminded what happens to traitors and criminals. Secondly, and more importantly for this discussion is the concept of the cross itself. Put in modern context; had Jesus been executed fifty years ago, Christians today would be walking around with little lightening bolts hanging around their necks and building giant marble electric chairs with a strapped in Jesus. But back in the days of Roman domination in Palestine, the common form of execution was crucifixion; and it was not always as pretty and neat as Mel Gibson tried to portray. Folks where hung up in all sorts of ways; upside down, sideways, nailed or tied, or low enough to be nibbled upon by animals … whatever was the mood of the executioner determined the fate of the doomed. Because “due process” was a concept still foreign, executions were random, frequent, and a first response to social upheaval and control. In other words, to a Jew … seeing a cross is like being constantly reminded of the thousands of our people executed. A cross is a weapon of murder and oppression. But, that is the lifechoice of a Christian and I have to respect them for their beliefs.
With that all being said, that cross in the laundry room was no different than the monument that cost a State Supreme Court judge his job nor is it any different from the crèche that is placed in the public square in Syracuse every holiday season. Each is the same thing. Each is art.
These depictions of the Ten Commandments are just artist’s visions. They are the thoughts, images, and symbolism of a religious event – the giving of the law to Man by God. When I look at them, I see a simplistic attempt by a weak artist to come up with a symbol for “The Law”; as one finds today on the exterior wall of the Law School at Syracuse University. How I see these images, however, is not necessarily how you would see them. These artist depictions could represent the most sacred of historical moments. Another might see the piece as being profane.
That is the role of art: To provoke and make you think.
In the United States, the wall separating church and state in this nation is high and strong: Never to be breached. But an artist’s rendering is NOT promoting religion.
The single distinguishing factor the Supreme Court today relies upon is the question of “intent behind the monument”. Not even the most brilliant and astute among us can recognize the difference between creating a religious environment and presenting secular art with a religious theme. Art with a religious theme is a question of taste, not law. Religious expression by the State, in art or otherwise, is illegal. It is simply too subjective of a question to pose whether the public square is a religious environment or a secular one laden with religious art. Our Supreme Court looks at the “equal time” factor as evidence of secular intent. Judges must now psychoanalyze every artists’ rendition and every legislative intent underlying its commission.
The danger now is that a government can create a lie that its’ intent is secular but in reality the quiet unspoken intent is to bring out the full force of their God into civil society. That ‘intent’ cannot be readily discerned and with all the other rules in play today, government action will be presumed legitimate. So long as a government body passes a “resolution” saying the art is part of a social ethics discussion; that makes it fair under the new rules. Civil ethics and religious dogma do at times concur. But, they do not travel the same pathways are not the same discussion.
Maybe if just once, the majority of the Supreme Court were to carry their laundry down a flight of stairs, they might truly understand what it is that people are complaining about.
Arguing against placement of religious monuments is not about secular intent. It is about being of one religion and having to enter a public building and see ornaments and art promoting and honoring another religion. Being a Jew, I already have a life long (and well deserved) distrust of most things “Christian”. Going down into my laundry room reminded me in a very hard way that some wounds and irrational fears will always exist. Jews Christians and Muslims will go into eternity distrusting and fearing the other. We may all be able to live together and get along, but inside of each of us, exists some level of doubt and apprehension that will probably never go away.
So while a County Legislature’s intent may indeed be honorable, what they do not understand is no matter how innocent are their intentions, people are going to be hurt. They are going to be offended. People are going to feel less secure. This is a sad commentary on our society but it is indeed true. The overwhelming majority of this nation claim allegiance to one Christian sect or another. Anything ‘Christian’ injected in society is readily accepted by the majority. Those who oppose it are deemed whiners.
But none of that is relevant to the Constitution. Our Founders did not give a damn whether people’s sensibilities were offended. They had just taken up arms against the established government and behaved very offensively. Their concern was a greater one; to prevent the church from injecting any control over civil society. Also, they worried about the State interfering with the Church. This was the Constitutional settlement with those people who fled Europe’s freedoms to create greater religious persecution here. (After all, what is a puritan?)
The Supreme Court seems more focused on sensibilities than on law. Their decisions make people’s feelings and intentions the relevant factor.
Thomas Jefferson and others made it clear in their writings and speeches: The wall between church and state is absolute. “How it makes you feel” was never part of the calculus. Neither was the reason why the State crossed that line and invaded the church. ‘Absolute’ is just that; total and complete separation.
Americans treat each other with more hostility than they do they State and government. If you step across a property line onto someone else’s property … it doesn’t matter if your act was innocent or even if you caused no damage. You are civilly liable; period. But when the State crosses over the wall between church and state, the Supreme Court says “how does that make you feel?”
I will not accept that.
Just as I did not accept the cross in the laundry room.
Intentions be damned.
Such is Mr. Jefferson’s wall.