Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union defended students’ right to post the Ten Commandments to their lockers — and The Atlantic smugly said that proved “the right’s antipathy toward the organization is misplaced.” But the ACLU still fails to see that the Ten Commandments might have a legitimate educational purpose in schools, that it might make sense to display the biblical legal code as a part of the history of Western civilization. The organization recently sued Narrows High School in Giles County, Va., for featuring the Ten Commandments next to other historical documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta and the Mayflower Compact. As the blog of The Manhattan Declaration explains, it would seem ACLU barely has a case.
Claiming that a display of the Ten Commandments “promote a specific religious faith, but do not support a secular purpose,” the ACLU argument is weak on both counts. ACLU’s first argument, based on The Establishment Clause of the US Constitution, fails because the Establishment Clause merely states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
Somewhere along the line, this tiny phrase has been joined together with a private letter to a group of Baptist preachers, and now the ACLU is claiming that the mere posting of the Ten Commandments is the “establishment of a religion”. This line of thinking ignores the first tenet of interpreting law that the original intent of the law must be scrutinized and maintained. Anyone who has ever studied history and is even remotely aware of why the Colonies chose to unite and rebel against the most powerful nation in the world, could not even begin to make the leap that the forced acceptance of the king’s church is anywhere near the same thing as the mere posting of the Ten Commandments.
ACLU also argues that posting the Ten Commandments fails to promote a “secular purpose.” This is interesting in light of the rise in plagiarism, cheating on test scores and school violence. It would seem that a reminder to students of how to stay out trouble would certainly serve a “secular purpose.”
Not to mention the “secular purpose” of education. The Bible, for example, was once taught as literature — and should be still. Has any other book so influenced literary forms?
Truthfully, I don’t bear any antipathy toward the ACLU — and I recognize that a difference does exist between individual students displaying the Ten Commandments on their lockers and school “authorities” — teachers, administrators, etc. — posting (and purportedly promoting a document). But I question the efficacy of ignoring history. Nor do I think a school should have to display every moral, religious or legal code side by side to ensure it doesn’t inadvertently endorse the Ten Commandments over any other such code. Schools have limited display space, and, in fact, certain codes disproportionately influenced different cultures. It makes perfect sense for a school to focus on the history of the civilization and culture in which the school exists.
Last thought: On some level, I can’t help but think the ACLU’s repeated protests of the Ten Commandments lend them special credence. By its objections, the organization implicitly acknowledges the compelling nature of the simple, time-tested formulations of right behavior.