Jewish World Review March 2, 2005/ 21 Adar I 5765
The Supreme Judge and the Supreme Court
In the latest culture war battle, the Ten Commandments have reached the Supreme Court.
One federal court has ruled that displaying the 10 standards G-d requires in order to be declared righteous is constitutional because it is part of this country's legal heritage. Another federal court has ordered them removed from public property because their message implies a government endorsement of religion. The justices will decide whether displaying the commandments in government buildings is constitutionally "kosher."
There are some amusing things about this case. First, it is a group of conservative Christians behind the effort. Not many, if any, Jewish groups are petitioning government for this right, even though the Ten Commandments are uniquely Jewish. Moses was Jewish, and the Ten Commandments preceded all of the other laws that followed.
No human has ever obeyed them all. That's why the ancient Israelites had to slaughter so many animals and offer blood and other offerings (grain, fellowship and "wave" among them) and once a year slaughter the Passover lamb to atone for their sin (for younger readers, sin was our condition before we became dysfunctional).
Christians, who sometimes seem so bellicose about these things, believe Jesus fulfilled every one of the Ten Commandments and thus became the perfect "Lamb of G-d who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Christians also believe "a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ" (Galatians 2:16) and "all who rely on observing the law are under a curse" (Galatians 3:10). They believe anyone who wishes to be judged by the law falls short and is condemned.
If Christians believe such things, why would they "settle" for the posting of the Ten Commandments through which they believe no one can be saved? Why not lobby for the display of their favorite verse: "For G-d so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16)? The display of that verse on public property would surely be ruled unconstitutional, but at least Christians would be consistent with what they actually believe.
What puzzles me is the extent to which those who want government to endorse their faith seem ready to compromise their true beliefs in order to receive an honorable mention from the state.
Some seem willing to settle for a moment of silent prayer in government schools, a type of religious Miranda right, in which believing students have the right to remain mute. Others are willing to place their G-d as co-unequal with almost anything, just to have his name publicly mentioned, even if that tends to dilute him so much he wouldn't recognize himself, much less be familiar to others.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor defended the "under G-d" clause in the Pledge of Allegiance case the court dismissed last year, calling those words "ceremonial deism." She defined the term as the use of religious idiom for "essentially secular purposes," thus satisfying the court's requirement that basically says Rudolph, Santa and Jesus may co-mingle on public property at Christmas (X-mas?) and Rudolph or Santa may be displayed separately or together, but not Jesus alone.
Is this what conservative Christians wish to settle for: a governmental genuflection or acknowledgement that they exist? Do Christians wish to permit government not only to set the parameters for the pubic expression of their faith, but to define the faith itself?
The courts have been wrong for at least half a century in their limitation of religious expression, but the way to win back that right of expression is not mainly through courts, but through hearts.
The first option offers limited power and no guarantee of compliance. The other offers unlimited power and the possibility of changing lives. Which seems better from a biblical standpoint? WWJD (What would Jesus do)? WWMT (What would Moses think)?
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