Friday, June 21, 2024

Louisiana's Ten Commandments Requirement

This one’s a real head scratcher. I don’t know whether to be happy, sad, or neutral, about it. I guess I’m a little of each of those. 

Jeff Landry, the Republican Governor of Louisiana  just signed into law a bill  requiring that the Aseres HaDibros (Ten Commandments) be displayed in every classroom in public schools and colleges. Louisiana is currently the only state required to do so.

To say I am disappointed at the idea of promoting the values of the Torah to the American people would be a gross misunderstanding of my feelings about it. Many of those commandments are basic laws of humanity, ethics, and morality. Who could possibly be upset with laws that say do not murder, do not steal, or do not covet. And who would argue with the requirement to honor one’s parents?

Where things get a bit dicey is in the theological realm. If one is an atheist They would obviously object to indoctrinating their youth with the existence of a deity.

As an aside - the one thing that I have always wondered about is how Christians like Landry have dealt with the following commandment - loosely translated as follows: 

Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Six days you should work. And the 7th day – Sabbath is for the Lord your God. Do not do any work on that day.  Not your son, your daughter, your servant, your maidservant, your animals, your converts… all that live within your gates. 

They ignore the direct commandment by God about the seventh day and chose Sunday, the first day as their day of rest. I don’t understand how they can change a direct command by God. No matter how noble their human reasoning about a switch to Sunday being a better way of honoring God. 

Not that a non Jew has to live by that particular commandment anyway. The laws of the Torah were directed to the Jewish people. Non Jews are required to live by another set of laws that basically reflect ethics and morality. Observing the Sabbath is not one of them. But I digress

As a nation founded by Christian believers who focused a great deal on the Torah (their Old Testament) it should not be surprising that there are a lot of shared values between Christians and Jews. Often referred to as the Judeo-Christian ethic. 

Those who dismiss that term ignore the very real connection that both religions have to the values of the Torah. That there is an obvious and important unbridgeable theological difference between us does not detract from that fact.

That being said, I can’t say that I am disappointed that believing Christians value the laws of the Torah and wish to pass on those values on to their children. The world in which we live today has just about forgotten those values and has made up new ones. Some of which are in  direct contradiction to those values.

And yet. the idea of mandating biblical passages on the walls of every school seems to violate the separation clause of the first amendment. I don’t see how it doesn’t. No matter how important the message of the passages are, they are clearly religious since they are the exact words of the bible. Can’t get too much more religious than that.

Much as I think it would be a net gain for America to return to the biblical ethics upon which this country was founded, I’m not sure this is the right way to do it. First because I don’t see how it could possibly be constitutionally allowed. But perhaps more importantly there is the slippery slope argument. It opens the door to placing biblical quotes from the New Testament that are not part of the Judeo-Christain ethic. Although I don’t see that happening now. It certainly well within the realm of possibility that some zealous Christian fundamentalist might try it

And then there is the Muslim community. They might share many of the values of the 10 commandments. But to the best of my knowledge the 10 commandments is not part of the Koran. Why should Muslim children be subjected to passages from a bible that are not part of their religion?

Governor Landry expects this new law to be challenged. He says he can’t wait. In fact the ACLU has already said they will challenge it.

I don’t know, Maybe Landry thinks the conservative makeup of the court which has been far more favorable to religion will see things differently than has past courts that knocked down as unconstitutional - similar laws by other states that tried to do the same thing. I don’t know

But I don’t see how even the conservative Justices would not consider this a violation of the First Amendment. It is one thing to allow a private citizen to recite prayer or passage from the bible on school property. It is another for a state to require posting verses from the bible and pretend they are not violating the separation clause.

I have to believe the Supreme Court will be unanimous and will strike this law down As it should. The above-mentioned slippery slope argument is a real concern. But as I also noted. I can’t say that I will be entirely happy about it.