On Posting the Ten Commandments in Schools

A pending mandate in Louisiana

Photo by SLT

Via NOLA.com: Louisiana becomes 1st state to require the Ten Commandments be posted in classrooms.

Louisiana will become the first state to require that public universities and K-12 schools display the Ten Commandments in every classroom after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to push forward new legislation Thursday.

[…]

“The purpose is not solely religious,” Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, told the Senate. Rather, it is the Ten Commandments’ “historical significance, which is simply one of many documents that display the history of our country and foundation of our legal system.”

While there are clearly ways in which the text in question could be studied and discussed for legitimate educational purposes, let’s be clear: forcing a display of the Ten Commandments in every classroom is absolutely for religious purposes. (Also: does this mean every room used for teaching at Lousiana public colleges and universities should put up posters of the Commandments?).

I realize that making claims about “historical significance” is an attempt to give the courts an out here, but this is quite obviously just an attempt at venerating a specific religious symbol (and I think the symbolism is far more important to those who push these things than is the text). Indeed, one of the things about these displays that always strikes me is the display of the list is treated like some kind of talisman, which at least in part undercuts the prohibition, in the Ten Commandments, against “graven images.” This was especially true when Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore snuck a giant monument into the court building back in the day.

I have never understood why people think that the Ten Commandments have some sort of magical power if displayed in a school or government building except, as noted, as a means of asserting a specific religious point of view on the public. It isn’t like people will think that murder is ok without the display in question (nor will kids in school stop coveting their neighbor’s Xbox or girlfriend if the Commandments are on display).

I really only find this story of interest because it will likely eventually give SCOTUS the chance to rule on this subject and it will end up being a test for how far right the Court has gone. I would not at all be surprised if the current Court upheld the right of Louisiana to require the posting of a specific religious text in public schools.

Side note, any discussion of the Ten Commandments makes me think of this:

FILED UNDER: Religion, US Politics, , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. charontwo says:

    This sort of thing tends to produce blowback from people who do not like being bullied.

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  2. Moosebreath says:

    “which is simply one of many documents that display the history of our country and foundation of our legal system”

    How many other “documents that display the history of our country and foundation of our legal system” are required to be displayed in every classrooms? The Magna Carta? Since this is Louisiana, the Napoleonic Code?

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  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    Christians never, ever want the Bible to be studied. That’s a common lie, but just a lie. If you actually look at the Bible objectively it’s a horror show starring a psychopathic god. Love me, love me, love me or I will fucking torture you for all eternity! The world’s worst boyfriend.

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  4. Not the IT Dept. says:

    “I have never understood why people think that the Ten Commandments have some sort of magical power…”

    These political Christians go by the children’s bible which is full of stories and fables. They certainly don’t pay attention or even know about the hard parts. For them, God is Dumbledore from Hogwards, doing magic tricks. I said before, when they look in a mirror, they think they see the face of God.

    As to why they want to post them all over the place, what they’re looking for is objections so they can go back to their flocks of sheep and say, look, see our opponents are anti-God. They’re going straight to hell’s bonfire to burn forever. It’s got nothing to do with actual Christianity.

    Hey, Senator Morris, check your voicemail – Thomas Jefferson would like a word with you about “historical documents”. Hint: he’s not happy.

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    It’s got nothing to do with actual Christianity.

    I’m not convinced there is such a thing as an actual Christian. Certainly not many.

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  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    historical significance, which is simply one of many documents that display the history of our country and foundation of our legal system.

    This is a lie though. The British common law system derives from Norse (i.e. pagan, not christian) origins and was an explicit rejection of the more biblically derived civil law system common in most of Europe.

    There’s a reason the book of the Bible is called “Judges” and not “Juries”

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  7. gVOR10 says:

    Gawd. I thought this Ten Commandments thing had gone out of fascion. Good post, James. I agree entirely, except for mentally substituting “tribal” for each mention of “religious”.

    One can argue about how high the founders wanted the bar against religion. But separation of church and state has been supported by the courts for a simple reason conservatives are unable to understand, because it’s necessary.

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  8. drj says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    This isn’t even remotely correct.

    Civil law goes back to Roman Law, mostly the 6th-century compilation ordered by Justinian, the so-called Corpus Juris Civilis. Civil law is not not Biblically derived.

    In the West, the Corpus Juris Civilis was rediscovered from the late 11th century onward. Sometimes, rulers tried to replace existing common law systems with Roman law, because (since it was based on an imperial law tradition) gave them more power.

    For the most part, these attempts were rather unsuccessful until Napoleon swept all the old traditional law codes away and replaced these with a more rational, unified law code. (In much the same way that outdated and irrational systems of measurement were replaced by the metric system around that time.)

    This also means that common law could never have been a rejection of civil law. Because Roman law was forgotten for so long, common law was, practically speaking, much, much older!

    Specifically looking at English common law (no such thing as British common law – England had different laws than Scotland), I would be surprised if there is much Norse paganism to be found. By the time that the Danes arrived, the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (which had become Christian by then) had long had their own common law systems. And much of that ended up being replaced following the Norman conquest. (And William the Conqueror, of course, was hardly Norse and definitely not pagan.)

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  9. charontwo says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The lie that the Constitution is based on biblical principles is used by Christian Nationalists as a justification for bringing the Bible and Bible derived stuff in the public arena, the Ten Commandments crap being an example/

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  10. @Stormy Dragon: As noted, the whole thing is designed to give the courts an out.

    I think you can make a very broad argument that the commandments (and things like Hammurabi’s Code) are part of a broad history of legal development. But again, that really isn’t the point at all, IMHO.

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  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    The Bible is the basis of all law and morality. Which is why in Japan murder is legal.

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  12. drj says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Perhaps to add, the distinction between civil law and common law is not that the one is Christian in origin, while the other derives from pagan origins. This is a red herring.

    The difference is that civil law is based on centrally promulgated law codes, i.e., a system in which the legislator takes precedence, while common law is based on jurisprudence, i.e., a system in which the courts, as well as court rulings, take precedence.

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  13. steve says:

    Other faiths ought to be allowed to post their documents. The church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster would like to post its pesto recipe. While it is religious in nature it is also a recipe so the courts will have an out.

    Steve

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  14. Moosebreath says:

    @steve: “The church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster would like to post its pesto recipe.”

    In the minds of the State Legislature, this would constitute proof of the ultimate evil that the Pastafarians are. Their church is founded on pesto-lence.

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  15. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: 60% of the Commandments don’t even mention God, so they’re majority secular and good for everyone!

    (Yes, I did have to read them off the hill in the photo and count on my fingers)

    We should require “Thou shalt not kill” be posted above the entrance to every slaughterhouse.

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  16. gVOR10 says:

    Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, told the Senate. Rather, it is the Ten Commandments’ “historical significance, which is simply one of many documents that display the history of our country and foundation of our legal system.”

    By my reckoning, of the ten, our legal system incorporates 6 (murder), 8 (theft), 9 (false witness) only in very limited circumstances, and in a few states 7 (adultery), only because they haven’t repealed laws they don’t enforce. And I am aware of no culture that doesn’t enforce 6, 8, and 9 at least to the extent we do.

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  17. Slugger says:

    I think that this is a great idea. Of course, the Commandments should be posted in their original language rather than in English. Traduttore, traditore.

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  18. Gustopher says:

    @Slugger: modernize it — post them in Klingon!

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  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Mark 12:17

    Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

    Even Jesus believed in the separation of church and state.

    @Moosebreath: Ouch.

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  20. Mimai says:

    I think it would be educational* for high school humanities teachers to assign The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs.

    And his new book too: The Year of Living Constitutionally.

    *99% educational, 1% trollish (humans have needs after all)

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  21. Kathy says:

    @Slugger:

    Would that be Aramaic or some ancient form of Hebrew?

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  22. Tim says:

    To meet the needs of the establishment clause all Louisiana has to do is not establish a single religion. Government endorsement of multiple religions is probably ok. So…

    1) Find equivalent “vision statements’ in every other religion practiced in the USA – Hindu, Sufi, the various native sects, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and so on – and create similar easy-to-digest bullet lists. Since Judeo-Christian thought is so prevalent in the USA also include the minor historic forms of the 10 commandments.

    2) Print them all up as posters, with identical fonts, font sizes, and so on. Some color variations are acceptable to keep them interesting, but it is critical to not use design to elevate one over all the others.

    3) Post a full set in every school, preferably side-by-side.

    4) If this material appears on any test, make sure the test questions are equal. Weight knowledge of a Sufi principal on the same level as a King James version.

    This will of course not fly with the MAGAs, as it completely defeats their goal of indoctrination, but it would be constitutional.

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  23. Mister Bluster says:

    We need to force every Church, Temple, Mosque and other Holy House in the country to post Article VI of the United States Constitution prominently above all other religious adornment:

    This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

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  24. DeD says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’m not convinced there is such a thing as an actual Christian. Certainly not many.

    Indeed, you may be onto something, MR. I left the church when I finally succumbed to the fact that I was not living up to the standard of Christian life as I interpreted it through the Bible, and probably couldn’t. Got up right in the middle of the sermon and walked out. It took another 12 years for that faith flame to die out.

    So, you’re probably correct. Anyone who thinks they’re living as a good Christian should is fundamentally deluded, and full of shyt.

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  25. Scott F. says:

    It isn’t like people will think that murder is ok without the display in question (nor will kids in school stop coveting their neighbor’s Xbox or girlfriend if the Commandments are on display).

    This is what always strikes me as odd. For a cohort that is so prone to lying about the true impacts of their policies on people, you would think they wouldn’t want to give such prominence to a tenet like “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” The kids are going to see that their elders don’t live by these commandments, but rather “all their works they do for to be seen of men.” The youth may come to believe it’s all BS.

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  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DeD:
    Living as an actual Christian is hard. I can say, as an atheist, that if Christians actually behaved like followers of Christ, we’d be living in a paradise.

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  27. DrDaveT says:

    You’ll note that there is no Republican campaign to post The Golden Rule in every classroom. That’s the last thing they want people to start living by…

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  28. Alex K says:

    The real question is: WHICH ten commandments? Catholics enumerate them differently from Protestants who enumerate them differently from Jews who enumerate them differently from Muslims….

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  29. Liberal Capitalist says:

    F’in idiots. There is always somebody trying this shit.

    ACLU will sue, then also the Satanic Temple will also sue for statue / poster rights.

    It’s politicians pandering with no hope of success.

    (Why yes, I am an atheist and a constitutionalist… how DID you guess?)

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  30. SKI says:

    @Kathy:

    Would that be Aramaic or some ancient form of Hebrew?

    They are written in biblical Hebrew which has slightly less diversion from modern Hebrew than Shakespeare’s English has from modern English.

    @Alex K:

    The real question is: WHICH ten commandments? Catholics enumerate them differently from Protestants who enumerate them differently from Jews who enumerate them differently from Muslims….

    And which version? The one in Exodus or the one in Deuteronomy? I mean, there isn’t a lot of difference but are we supposed to “remember” Shabbat or “keep” it?

    @Gustopher:

    We should require “Thou shalt not kill” be posted above the entrance to every slaughterhouse.

    It doesn’t talk about killing but of murder.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’m not convinced there is such a thing as an actual Christian. Certainly not many.

    I vehemently disagree. I see huge numbers of Christians who behave exactly as the Christians in the first Crusade did. And the Inquisition. And the colonization of the Americas. And the … Well, you get the point.

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