Before signing the new US Constitution, a number of the state representatives to the new constitution needed more assurance of the intent of the new government.
Ten amendments to the original constitution were proposed. These ten amendments had to do with the rights of the citizens of this new country. Collectively, they are known as the Bill of Rights.
For your reference I present amendment #1:
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.
Now, lets look at the 10 commandments and determine if they would be constitutional in the new United States:
1. Thou shall have no other gods before me.
This is absolutely unconstitutional! The free exercise clause of the first amendment guarantees that we each have the right to follow ANY god and ANY religious belief system that we wish. Remember, the first 10 amendments were INSISTED upon by a number of the representatives to the Constitutional Convention before they would sign.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
The free exercise grounds would prohibit the enforcement of commandment #2. . Americans can make any graven image they wish to make, and bow down to whatever god or idol they wish.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Unconstitutional on both freedom of religion and free speech grounds.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Does that mean that all Christians would have to start going to church on Saturday? Again, free exercise ground makes Commandment #4 unconstitutional.
5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
This is a good idea in most cases, but a law requiring it would be unconstitutional and outside the purview of government. You can’t legally enforce an individual’s feelings toward their parents.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
Obviously, this is constitutional, and is part of our legal system. It is also found in EVERY legal system, even those that have nothing to do with the bible or Christianity. No society can condone murder of each other and survive, so it is simply a survival imperative.
7. Thou shall not commit adultery.
Good idea, but not constitutional. Adultery is a moral wrong but is a private matter between individuals.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
This is only the second of the 10 commandments that is obviously constitutional, and it is also found in every legal system regardless of the religious system that may have initially spawned it. This is a universal imperative that would be part of the law even if the bible never existed.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Some have interpreted this to be analogous to our perjury laws, but nothing in the biblical text indicates that. It is talking about lying in general, not in a legal sense during court proceedings. While lying may be wrong, it is not legally wrong except in specific circumstances — perjury and libel/slander. Under our system, most instances of lying would be covered by the first amendment free speech clause. Don’t forget, lying holds lots of marriages together (Does this dress make me look fat? No dear, of course not!)
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.
That would require the ability to read minds! If coveting is what your neighbor has were against the law in the US, there would be no “keeping up with the Joneses”. Outlaw coveting, and you outlaw Capitalism. You cannot under our system, legislate against thoughts or feelings.
So, is the 10 commandments the basis of our laws? NOT EVEN CLOSE!
If anyone said that we are a Judeo-Christian country, I would want to know why it is that our constitution does not come close to reaffirming the supremacy of the ten commandments?
Error from yesterday:
I have always known Jefferson, Paine, and Adams to be among the ‘framers’ of the US constitution. These three men were notable because of how much their writings influenced the Constitution – but, I was wrong, they were not directly involved in its writing. Indeed they were not at the constitutional convention of 1787.
Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania was in charge of the committee of 5 to draft the final copy of the Constitution. I won’t try to re-write yesterday’s blog, but suffice it to say that, though he is not as well known as Jefferson, Adams, and Paine, he also vigorously defended the right of anyone to practice his chosen religion without interference, and he argued to include such language in the Constitution.
So, what does this change? Probably not much. It still is very clear that the writers, framers, etc., wanted religion to be out of the purview of the federal government. Comparing our constitution with the 10 Commandments should have made that pretty clear.
I regret the error. Thank you Laura and Bill for bringing it to my attention.