The Ten Commandments

make no law respecting an establishment of religion

A random dude on Facebook – I didn’t know him – wrote that he read on Facebook that the state of Louisiana is mandating that The Ten Commandments be displayed in classrooms. But he didn’t necessarily believe it because it was on Facebook.

Back in my working librarian days, I would fairly often have conversations about media literacy. I’d ask someone for the source of information. They’d say Facebook or Twitter. My follow-up would be, “But what was the source, the reference?”

In any case, when I read the information on Facebook,  I already knew about it in newsfeeds from the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, and Newsmax, among others.

The general conversation on that Facebook stream then turned to: “Well, with all of the problems in our schools, this isn’t really that much of a big deal.”  

I developed a low-grade headache.

Then I was reminded about something that a couple of people I know IRL have been bugging me about. They believe that civics is not being taught in our schools.  What IS civics anyway? It is “a social science dealing with the rights and duties of citizens.”

Amendment 1

So, citizens, there’s a thing called the Constitution of the United States!  It replaced something called the Articles of Confederation, the nation’s first framework, effective March 4, 1789.

But the critics of the Constitution wanted more guardrails. Constitutional supporters agreed to create a Bill of Rights “which consists of 10 amendments that were added to the Constitution in 1791.”

The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” 

Ah, but you note that it was a Louisiana STATE law that imposed the Ten Commandments. However, the Supreme Court has “interpreted the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as protecting the rights in the First Amendment from interference by state governments.” 

Requiring classrooms to display the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments reeks of the state of Louisiana establishing religion, this old poli sci major and Christian will tell you. Gov. Jeff Landry (R-LA) makes this clear. “If you want to respect the rule of law, you’ve got to start from the original lawgiver, which was Moses.” 

Of course

So naturally, the presumptive Republican nominee for President supports it. Per Newsmax: “‘Has anyone read the ‘Thou shalt not steal’? I mean, has anybody read this incredible stuff? It’s just incredible,’ Trump said at the gathering of the Faith & Freedom Coalition [on June 22]. ‘They don’t want it to go up. It’s a crazy world.'”’

Conversely, Austin, TX  pastor Zach Lambert notes: “If your version of Christianity wants to put the Ten Commandments in schools but take free lunch out of them, you are worshipping something other than Jesus.”

Read the fuzzy argument that Oklahoma’s state superintendent of public education, Ryan Walters, makes in requiring all public schools to teach the Bible and the Ten Commandments.

Getting back to civics

I worry about how the “rights and duties of citizens” are being abridged. In recent years, being able to serve on a jury, serving as an election poll watcher, and even the very right to vote, have been threatened. When I wrote that I would have served on a particular jury, it wasn’t because I would have wanted to; it’s because a citizen has an obligation, so the external threats are unAmerican. Poll watcher intimidation is unAmerican. Wholesale purging of voter rolls: unAmerican. 

As we celebrate the 4th of July, let us remember the preamble of the Constitution, a direct result of the Revolutionary War fervor. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Then we need to act as though it were true.

K is for Kill

Surely, self-defense is often raised as a defense of war, just as it would be for an individual under attack.

I was attempting to have a theological conversation with my mother a few years back. She demurred, “I just follow the Ten Commandments.” Yeah, I said, but what do they mean? Take that one that says, “Thou shalt not kill?” How does one interpret that in today’s world?

For instance, according to some sources, “the Hebrew word that was used in this case for ‘kill’ (or murder) was the somewhat rare term rasah… Although its exact meaning has defied explanation, in other contexts it could refer to killing that was inherently evil… However, the same term could also have applied to unintentional manslaughter…, blood vengeance…, the legal execution of a criminal …”

Indeed, most iterations of Scripture now use the word “murder” rather than “kill” in Exodus 20:13, which I interpret as a more legalistic term.

This study suggests five topics for discussion, so I thought I’d touch on the same, though there are plenty more.

Suicide: if killing anyone is considered a sin against God, by its very nature, some consider suicide to be an irreparable sin. Yet in legal terms, one mitigates for “diminished capacity.” Would God do any less? The only suicide I can recall in the Bible was by Judas Iscariot, after turning Jesus over to the authorities.

Capital Punishment: “An eye for an eye,” the Old Testament says, but Jesus seems to modify that. Many, including me, feel quite uncomfortable with the state executing others in their name. Some even consider it murder by the state (rasah), and there are Biblical references to that being the case unless the guilt was absolutely certain.

Euthanasia: the miracle of medicine allow people to be kept alive much longer than we once thought possible. But what of the quality of that life? And certainly, one can distinguish between stopping doing everything possible to let go, and aiding the process, something most U.S. states would consider a form of murder.

War: certainly many wars were fought and recorded in Biblical times. How does that inform what WE should do? Some were expecting Jesus to be a great warrior in the military sense and were disappointed by this “Prince of Peace” fellow. And are there just wars and unjust wars? This has been argued for millennia. Surely, self-defense is often raised as a defense of war, just as it would be for an individual under attack.

Abortion: when does life begin? One would be hard-pressed to argue against the notion that at least the potential for life commences when a zygote is created. But these can be formed fairly frequently and don’t usually attach to the womb to grow. This discussion also is addressed in the stem cell debate and even some forms of birth control.

These are complicated issues. What do YOU think?

Unrighteous anger as murder?

ABC Wednesday – Round 7

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