The following is the second question I was asked by a journalism and political science major at a major university for a research paper (you can read my answer to the first question here):
How did American Vision feel about former Alabama Judge Roy Moore’s display of the Ten Commandments at the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery in 2003? Did this display align with American Vision’s goal to restore America to its Biblical Foundation? What is American Vision’s response to those who believe that this display is a political overreach?
When Judge Roy Moore ran for the office of chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he made a pledge to restore America’s moral foundation. He began to deliver on his promise when he placed a 5,280-pound granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state Judicial Department. The monument also included the phrase from the Declaration of Independence, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” the national Motto, “In God We Trust,” the Pledge of Allegiance, “One Nation Under God,” and the Judicial Oath “So Help Me God.” During the brief ceremony dedicating the monument, Judge Moore made these summary comments: “May this day mark the beginning of the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people and return to the knowledge of God in our land.” ((Stan Bailey, “Moore puts Commandments monument in court building,” Birmingham News (August 8, 2001), 1A.))
Why was Alabama singled out when Pennsylvania has had a display of the Ten Commandments in its State Supreme Court building since 1927? The sixteen murals were conceived and painted by Violet Oakley. They are massive, most measuring 10' by 8', thus dwarfing Judge Roy Moore’s granite monument. The mural series is titled “Divine Law,” as in God and the Law. Plate V is “The Decalogue … the Hebrew Idea of Revealed Law.” It shows the Ten Commandments being chiseled in stone. Below the striking image, the commandments are written out for everyone to see and read.
“The Decalogue … the Hebrew Idea of Revealed Law.”
Plate VI shows Jesus delivering “The Beatitudes.” It’s described as the “Christian Idea of Revealed Law.” Like the Ten Commandments’ mural, the Beatitudes are written out and identified as coming from the Bible.
Plates VIII and X summarize the philosophy of the English Jurist William Blackstone. Plate X (below) includes the often-quoted summary of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England:
William Blackstone on the Law
This Law of Nature dictated by God Himself is superior to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries and at all times. No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this, and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority mediately or immediately from this original. Upon these two foundations the Law of Nature and the Law of Revelation depend all human Law…. Human laws are only declaratory of and act in subordination to Divine Law.
Plate XV is the panel of “Christ and Disarmament … International Law.” Once again, the Bible is quoted, and Jesus Christ is shown walking on the stormy seas of international conflict while warships sink around Him. “It depicts Oakley’s vision of what would occur if all nations
accepted one code of law.” Oakley’s view was that the “one code of law” was Divine Law.
If the Alabama Ten Commandment monument was a violation of the Constitution, then the murals that adorn the walls of Pennsylvania’ s State Supreme Court building are also in violation.
President Harry S. Truman voiced the common and prevailing sentiment of his day:
The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings which we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don’t think we comprehend that enough these days.
If we don’t have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody. ((Harry S. Truman, Harry S. Truman: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President—January 1 to December 31, 1950 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1965), 197.))
As Chief Justice Warren Burger noted in his majority opinion of Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), the Supreme Court Chamber where judicial cases related to religion are “heard is decorated with a notable and permanent-not seasonal-symbol of religion: Moses with the Ten Commandments.” ((U.S. Supreme Court Lynch v. Donnelley, 465 U.S. 668 (decided March 5, 1984), II.C.))
In addition to the Supreme Court, state courtrooms and capitols across our land have housed similar displays for decades without any legal challenges or constitutional prohibitions: The Texas State Capitol, the chambers of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and scores of other legislatures, courthouses, and other public buildings. “In fact, the Ten Commandments are more easily found in America’s government buildings than in her religious buildings, thus demonstrating the understanding by generations of Americans from coast to coast that the Ten Commandments formed the basis of America’s civil laws.” ((David Barton, “The Ten Commandments: A Part of America’s Legal System for Almost 400 years!,” Prepared and presented in response to multiple ACLU lawsuits against public displays of the Ten Commandments, United States District Court, Eastern District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, London Division (March 2001).))
In addition to hundreds of displays, the Constitution itself recognizes one of the most religiously specific of the Ten Commandments. In Article I, section 7 of the Constitution, Sunday is set aside as a day of rest for the President, a direct reference to the fourth commandment:
If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless Congress by their Adjournment prevent its return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
In addition to the fourth commandment being recognized in the body of the Constitution, the statute books of the states include prohibitions against blasphemy (third), dishonoring parents (fifth), murder (sixth), adultery (seventh), theft (eighth), and perjury (ninth). The fact that the Constitution ends with “in the year of our Lord” reflects the truth of the First Commandment: “I am the LORD your God…. You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:2–3). The Ten Commandments, from top to bottom, summarize the nature and purpose of law in America by reminding us that neither we nor civil government is god.
Some claim that the first table of the commandments consists of religious edicts unnecessary for laws that are deemed to be self-evident moral laws. In a 1922 Iowa Supreme Court decision declared otherwise:
The observance of Sunday is one of our established customs. It has come down to us from the same Decalogue that prohibited murder, adultery, perjury, and theft. It is more ancient than our common law or our form of government. It is recognized by Constitutions and legislative enactments, both State and federal. On this day Legislatures adjourn, courts cease to function, business is suspended, and nation-wide our citizens cease from labor. The observance of the Sabbath is regarded as essential to the proper upbuilding of the mental and physical, as well as the moral, life of a great people. Laws and ordinances respecting its observance are clearly within the genius of our institutions and the spirit of our national life. The ordinance in question is not inconsistent with the laws of the state, nor is it an unreasonable regulation. It is, therefore, valid. ((City of Ames [Iowa] v. Gerbracht, 189 N.W. 729, 733 (1922).))
Without the declaration of the first two commandments, there can’t be any ultimate justification of the commandments that following, including those against murder (sixth), theft (eighth), and perjury (ninth). There are no moral absolutes given the operating assumptions of materialists who advocate a something from nothing origin of life and survival of the fittest worldview.
God died in the nineteenth century and Nietzsche danced on his grave. The foundation of the external moral law was destroyed and, in its place, was a vacuum, soon gleefully filled by the narcotics of Nazism and Communism. It may not be possible to say that the death of God led directly to the death ovens; but equally, nobody can ignore the fact that the cruelest era in history was also the first to deny the existence of an external moral force. ((Bryan Appleyard, review of Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century in The Sunday Times (December 1999). Quoted in Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Design: Life as he Intends it to Be (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 27.))
If this is true, “can we stop the long nightmare of the twentieth century from spilling over into the twenty-first?” We cannot live within the fluid boundaries of legal relativism. There must be a definitive and final moral legal standard of appeal to justify moral decisions at the personal and governmental levels. If not, then one judge’s opinion is as good (or as bad) as another.
The Ten Commandments has been that fixed summary standard in America since its founding. As Nightline host Ted Koppel stated in a 1987 commencement address at Duke University, “What Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions. They are commandments. Are, not were. The sheer brilliance of the Ten Commandments is that they codify in a handful of words acceptable human behavior, not just for then or now, but for all time. Language evolves. Power shifts from one nation to another. Messages are transmitted with the speed of light. Man erases one frontier after another. And yet we and our behavior and the commandments governing that behavior remain the same.” ((Ted Koppel, The Last Word, Commencement Address at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina (May 10, 1987). Quoted in Robert H. Bork, The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law (New York: The Free Press, 1989), 164.Ted Koppel, The Last Word, Commencement Address at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina (May 10, 1987). Quoted in Robert H. Bork, The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law (New York: The Free Press, 1989), 164.))