Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Every religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas.”1 There is a corollary to Jefferson’s observation: “Every non-religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas.” Jefferson himself proved this by compiling a moral philosophy in his Literary Commonplace Book. Ted Turner summarily dismissed the Ten Commandments. Turner, founder of CNN, had this to say about the Ten Commandments when he addressed the National Press Association in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1988: “We’re living with outmoded rules. The rules we’re living under [are] the Ten Commandments, and I bet nobody here even pays much attention to ’em, because they are too old. When Moses went up on the mountain, there were no nuclear weapons, there was no poverty. Today, the Ten Commandments wouldn’t go over. Nobody around likes to be commanded.” Turner’s dismissal of the Ten Commandments led him to develop his own set of “new” commandments that he called “Voluntary Initiatives”:2
- I promise to have love and respect for the planet earth and living things thereon, especially my fellow species—humankind.
- I promise to treat all persons everywhere with dignity, respect, and friendliness.
- I promise to have no more than two children, or no more than my nation suggests.
- I promise to use my best efforts to save what is left of our natural world in its untouched state and to restore damaged or destroyed areas where practical.
- I pledge to use as little nonrenewable resources as possible.
- I pledge to use as little toxic chemicals, pesticides, and other poisons as possible and to work for their reduction by others.
- I promise to contribute to those less fortunate than myself, to help them become self-sufficient and enjoy the benefits of a decent life, including clean air and water, adequate food and health care, housing, education, and individual rights.
- I reject the use of force, in particular military force, and back United Nations arbitration of international disputes.
- I support the total elimination of all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of mass destruction.
- I support the United Nations and its efforts to collectively improve the conditions of the planet.
Turner’s first Initiative does not include the protection of pre-born babies. The third Initiative has similar ominous overtones. And what if we don’t “voluntarily” follow his recommendations? Notice the tenth “Initiative.” Doesn’t sound voluntary to me.
How dare anyone object or question them. Eastern Michigan University has given us a sample of modern-day moral dogmatism. On March 12, 2010 Julia Ward was dismissed from the counseling graduate program after she referred a homosexual client to another counselor because she believes homosexuality is “immoral sexual conduct, and cannot affirm or validate that behavior or otherwise use her counseling skills and abilities to facilitate homosexual behavior, without violating her sincere religious beliefs.” Like the Decalogue, the folks at Eastern Michigan University have declared their commandment about sexuality to be fundamentally true (First Commandment), and any rejection of that commandment will be punished (Second Commandment). There is no escape from law and their sanctions. The question is, What is the origin of laws and what makes them laws? Humanists can’t say, but this doesn’t stop them from making them and forcing us to comply. It was no different in early America.
Some of the earliest court cases in the United States make statements that show the importance of the Decalogue in the reinforcement of our nation’s legal tradition. In a 1914 legal case, the court acknowledged, “The laws of spiritual life, of civil life, and moral life are all set forth in the ten commandments.”3 The 1899 West Virginia case Moore v. Strickling argued in a similar way:
These commandments, which, like a collection of diamonds, bear testimony to their own intrinsic worth—in themselves appeal to us as coming from a superhuman or divine source; and no conscientious or reasonable man has yet been able to find a flaw in them. Absolutely flawless, negative in terms but positive in meaning, they easily stand at the head of our whole moral system; and no nation or people can long continue a happy existence, in open violation of them.”4
In a 1931 case, Judge Charles Sumner Lobingier declared that “Israel’s law is the connecting link between the earliest and the latest legal systems and has proved itself one of the most influential forces in the evolution of the world’s law.”5 But long before these modern statements, we find that “King Alfred in his Doom Book adopted the Ten Commandments and other selections from the Pentateuch, together with the Golden Rule in the negative form, as the foundation of the early laws of England.”6 America was no less influenced as H. B. Clark states:
The Scriptures doubtless have been a potent influence upon American Law. In the early colonial period, the Bible seems to haven commonly regarded among the people as law. Several of the colonies formally adopted provisions of Mosaic law.7 For example, Plymouth Colony in 1636 adopted a “small body of Lawes” largely based upon the laws of Israel. And New Haven Colony in 1639 resolved that “the word of God shall be the only rule to be attended to in ordering the affairs of government in this plantation,”8 and in 1655 adopted a code in which 47 out of 79 topical statutes were based on the Bible.9
With the exception of Rhode Island, every early American colony incorporated the entire Decalogue into its legal code. In 1638, prior to leaving Boston, Massachusetts, the leading men of the proposed Rhode Island colony incorporated themselves into political body. The Portsmouth Compact, signed by 23 men, stated the following: “We whose names are underwritten do hereby solemnly in the presence of Jehovah incorporate ourselves into a Bodie Politick and as He shall help, will submit our persons, lives and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and to all those perfect and most absolute laws of His given in His Holy Word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby.” The following Bible passages accompany the text: Exodus 24:3–4; 2 Chronicles 11:3; 2 Kings 11:17.
- Quoted in Paul Grimley Kuntz, The Ten Commandments in History: Mosaic Paradigms for a Well-Ordered Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 170.(↩)
- Quoted in H. B. Clark, Biblical Law: Being a Text of the Statutes, Ordinances, and Judgments Established in the Holy Bible—with Many Allusions to Secular Laws: Ancient, Medieval and Modern—Documented to the Scriptures, Judicial Decisions and Legal Literature (Portland, OR: Binfords and Mort, 1944), 8, note.(↩)
- Moore v. Strickling (1899) 46 W. Va. 515, 33 SE 274, 50 LRA 279, 282. Quoted in Clark, Biblical Law, 8.(↩)
- 4 China LR (1931) 362 (Lobingier). Quoted in Clark, Biblical Law, 43.(↩)
- Quoted in J. Nelson Happy and Samuel Pyeatt Menefee, “Genesis!: Scriptural Citation and the Lawyer’s Bible Project,” 9 Regent University Law Review 89 (1997).(↩)
- William Galbraith Miller, The Data of Jurisprudence (Edinburgh and London: William Green and Sons, 1903), 416.(↩)
- The Preamble to The Fundamental Orders (1639) reads: “For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise disposition of his divine providence . . . [A] people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be as one Public State or Commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also, the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said Gospel is now practiced amongst us; as also in our civil affairs to be guided and governed according to such Laws, Rules, Orders and Decrees as shall be made, ordered, and decreed as followeth:” http://www.constitution.org/bcp/fo_1639.htm(↩)
- Clark, Biblical Law, 44.(↩)