The ACLU v. The Ten Commandments: Getting the Issue Framed Correctly

Jul 3, 2024 by David Fowler

The ACLU v. The Ten Commandments: Getting the Issue Framed Correctly
July 4th was an invitation to think about our nation’s founding, and the other week the ACLU gave us something specific to consider—the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools. I wonder why the ACLU would have a problem with it. It’s just a list of ten statements on a piece of paper or cardstock hung on a wall. For it to be a legal problem justifying a judicial remedy, it must do something unlawful to somebody. But what? What do the ten statements “do” that is unlawful? The answer may not be that simple, and thoughtful consideration exposes the ACLU’s folly. Maybe the ACLU’s lawsuit over the posting will give us a chance to put the First Amendment back in order.
Do the ten statements act coercively on the child?
Let’s begin by assuming the legal wrong is that the ten statements somehow act “coercively” on the minds of students, the idea of coercion being found in the U.S. Supreme Court’s essays (opinions) about the First Amendment.
But the ten statements cannot, in themselves, have any coercive property unless the statements have some metaphysical nature beyond the ink and paper that’s used.
But they can’t have any such property, according to today’s enlightened thinkers. Evolution emptied the world of metaphysics, which asks whether things have a given nature or meaning beyond their physical properties. Post-modern thinking is simply the logical conclusion drawn from evolution, and the answer is no.
So, if people don’t like those ten statements or believe them, they should pay them no mind. After all, that’s what the ACLU would say in defense of public displays some people think are pornographic: Don’t look at them.
I guess the coercive “nature” of the ten statements is like beauty vis-à-vis pornography: its’s only in the eye of the beholder.
Does the law behind the posting make the statements coercive?
“But,” I can hear it now, “The ten statements are coercive because their posting is required by state law.”
Okay. Let’s go with that and see where it leads.
If enacting a statute requiring the posting of a statement on a school wall turns that statement into a coercive force upon the mind, we have another problem:
Can we lawfully distinguish the coerciveness of two posterboards on the schoolhouse wall, one containing the ten statements and the other in rainbow colors celebrating Pride Month?
The latter would be government action, too.
I know the rebuttal: “One is religious, and the other is not.”
But isn’t that the kind of outright viewpoint discrimination by government against religion that the Court ruled not too long ago violates the First Amendment?
How to solve the problem
What we have is a legal problem of metaphysical proportions that no one wants to talk about.
But, if I were a federal judge, I might have a little fun deciding the ACLU lawsuit that is coming, given I would have lifetime tenure.
I would begin with noting there is no requirement that the statements be affirmed or read and knowing them is not part of any testing requirement. The statements themselves set forward no penalty or sanction.
Then I would note that in the very Bible from which the ten statements are taken, the Apostle Paul wrote that ten statements summarizing the moral law of God have, in themselves, no coercive force (Galatians 3:21). So, the Bible denies that the ten statements in themselves entail coercion.
Finally, citing Romans 7:8, I would advise the parties that they only think the ten statements have a coercive effect, but their perception is incorrect. The Bible from which the statements are taken says consideration of the statement may stir up the sin resident in and presiding over their lives, but sin is not something Louisiana’s legislature enacted and forced on anyone.
There. The Bible resolves the ACLU’s concerns about coercion.
The ACLU Has a Discrimination Problem
The ACLU has two problems. First, it thinks knowledge can be separated from our conception of God, which is its conception of the relationship between God and knowledge. That viewpoint discriminates against the viewpoint that knowledge of God and the knowledge of other things cannot be separated.
Second, the ACLU thinks our conception of God can be separated from what it means to be human. Thus, wants public schools to offer pride in ourselves as important to human flourishing. However, saying that viewpoint is permitted but not the alternative, humility before God as represented by the ten statements, is, again, viewpoint discrimination.
The folly of the ACLU’s insistence that government accept its discriminatory viewpoint to the exclusion of others on the same topics should be obvious to all.
The Bottom Line
It’s time we get back to the original purpose of the First Amendment as stated by Justice Joseph Story in his Commentaries on the Constitution:

The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age. (§1871, emphasis supplied).

But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it had not been followed up by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests. Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Armenian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship. (§1873, emphasis supplied)
Maybe the ACLU’s lawsuit will allow the states to help the federal courts get the First Amendment back in its proper order. Neutrality toward the God of the Bible is impossible. That’s just part of how He created things.

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