Keeping Ten Commandments out of public places good for Christians

The battle cry over church and state has been fought relentlessly since the Founding Fathers decided the United States would be a secular nation.

The modern concept of a wholly secular government is sometimes credited to the writings of English philosopher John Locke, but the phrase “separation of church and state” in this context is generally traced to a January 1, 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson, addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper.

(By AP graphics)

(By AP graphics)

The latest skirmish involves the little town of Muldrow, Okla., in turmoil after a national nonprofit organization reportedly threatened a lawsuit if postings of the Ten Commandments aren’t removed from the walls of a public high school.

A letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FRFF) was sent to school officials after an anonymous student contacted the organization about the postings of the Ten Commandments at his high school, according to multiple reports.

Ever since the letter arrived, the community has been up in arms, the Huffington Post reported.

Multiple petitions have been signed by hundreds of people, pray-ins have been held at the school, pro-Christian messages lit up Twitter with the hashtag #FightForFaith, and church officials and politicians have railed against the request to remove the religious postings.

The school gave in yesterday, taking down the plaques, a local television station reported.

“When it’s clearly decided, there’s no point in continuing to fight a losing battle,” Muldrow Schools Attorney Jerry Richardson told the local channel.

The controversy generated the usual cries of Christianity being “under attack.” The story comments, Twitter reaction and Facebook memes all parrot the idea that more religion in schools (among other places) is better for society.

But is it?

I tend to agree with Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, an ordained minister and practicing Christian, who agreed with the decision to take down the Ten Commandments:.

Every religious person should object to having the Ten Commandments in schools because you are allowing other people — people over whom you have no control — the responsibility of interpreting said commandments.

If you take the Ten Commandments seriously, you certainly don’t want someone who doesn’t share your beliefs explaining to the classroom what they mean. That is a privilege reserved for religious leaders who we chose to follow and it is best done in religious establishments — not by some teacher randomly asked about them in a classroom.

I think it’s a fair point. The attitudes toward religion in this country is the same as it’s ever been: if you seek a religious adherence, it’s your choice to seek it out and practice your beliefs.

At no place in a public setting should a particular set of religious beliefs be forced on anyone with the reasonable expectation that the setting should be religiously neutral.

If you’re a Catholic, or a Methodist, or a Lutheran, I would think you’d want willing adherents who come to your church ready to learn the Ten Commandments in an appropriate setting, led by an appropriate representative of your church.

That doesn’t seem like a difficult concept, nor does our secular society seem overly restrictive. And it’s worked well for over 200 years.

I don’t see any significant sway one way or the other.

Do you agree? If not, why would you want the Ten Commandments in place at, say, York Suburban High School?

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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One Response to Keeping Ten Commandments out of public places good for Christians

  1. Jim Fahringer says:

    I understand the premise of your argument. As far as someone who is not of your religious persuasion explaining what the Ten Commandments mean is a mute point. Really, I think if research was conducted, that you would find that very few, if any, teacher or other school employee has ever tried to explain what the Ten Commandments mean. It just doesn’t happen. We are really in a sorry amoral state if anyone needs to have a commandment like “Thou shalt not steal” explained to them. No most of the Ten Commandments are self explanatory.

    Just to have something displayed in a public place is not forcing that idea on anyone and especially those who do not believe in it. It is also interesting that the Ten Commandments were not originally Christian but Jewish. It is interesting that you say –” At no place in a public setting should a particular set of religious beliefs be forced on anyone with the reasonable expectation that the setting should be religiously neutral.” The display of something is not forcing anything on anybody. Some religious groups may object to the American flag being displayed in the classroom but the simple display of that flag is not forcing the ideals and what that flag stands, for on anyone who does not believe in those things.

    I wonder if there is enough white paint to paint over all the scriptural references that appear around the interior dome of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building. Also, I wonder if there is enough white paint to cover the world famous works of art dealing with scriptural content that decorate the interior of our State Capitol building. And oh yes, we would also have to paint over the beautiful painted murals in our State Supreme Court Building which include direct reference to the Ten Commandments. The paintings in the Supreme Court Building remind everyone that the Ten Commandments, as well as other forms of law, were instrumental in the founding of the laws of this country as well as other countries. No, the simple display of a generic concept like the Ten Commandments is not forcing religious beliefs on anyone, it is simply a reminder of some good moral advice and guidelines appropriate for anybody. Who is it that could possibly object to things like “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt honor thy mother and father” etc?

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