Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Stupid Christians Still Can’t Keep Their Hands Off My Government

February 28, 2006

The latest assault on the barrier between church and state is being mounted less than 500 yards from where I attend classes every day. The Georgia House recently passed HB 941 by a whopping 140 to 26, with the intent “to recognize America’s religious heritage” by plastering a quotation from a holy book on courthouse walls next to political documents. The bill proposes to sidestep the prohibitions against posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings by sticking them in with the Mayflower Compact and the Declaration of Independence. Theoretically, tacking on some vague claptrap about the educational intentions driving this pathetic attempt to ram the Christian god down the public throat will camouflage its blatant illegality. What’s worse, they expect you and me to pay for it when their pious crusade comes under attack.

I don’t mean they expect us to finance the manufacture and installation of the displays; that much is obvious from the fact that it’s in a public courthouse. No, in Section 2 of the very bill which enacts the displays, the legislature makes a provision requiring the Attorney General to “defend and bear the costs of defending any and all municipalities” that put up the document. Now why in god’s name (ha ha) would the legislature insert such a provision unless they knew damn well that what they’re doing is illegal? No reason to expect a flood of lawsuits if what you’re doing is okay, right?

The argument that the Ten Commandments is somehow a historical document like the Mayflower Compact or the Declaration of Independence is a sick joke in the first place. The latter two were generated by settlers and pioneers of America for political purposes, with the intent to draw together a community and provide the framework for a legal process. The Ten Commandments, on the other hand, were supposedly handed down from god to a wandering desert tribe thousands of years ago. Uh, and this is relevant to American law how?

The Code of Hammurabi from ancient Mesopotamia, the first written set of laws, would be more appropriate. It has religious overtones, granted, but it also prescribes punishments, methods of determining fact, rules for the behavior of the judiciary, and a host of other much more relevant regulations than “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” The judicial system set forth in the commandments? Well, presumably god will strike you with boils or something if you screw up.

The first four commandments don’t even relate to what we think of as ethical or legal behavior. First, there’s “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This isn’t a social law, it’s religious law intended to enforce theistic purity. The second is a prohibition on idol worship, which serves the same purpose, and the third specifically calls the Christian deity “thy god.” What’s more insulting than walking into a public building and being told who “thy god” is? The final religious requirement is the most easily defended; we do have Sundays off from business and school, after all. When it’s all said and done, there are only three of the commandments that one can actually be charged with a crime for breaking!

Hell, if we’re going to equate the history of American law with the history of religious dogma, why not include some Catholic doctrines or Jewish kosher laws? Come to think of it, the Ten Commandments are in the Torah also; why all the talk in the accompanying statement about the Christian values of America when the exact same code is followed by another religion that also fled to America to escape persecution? To top it off, most of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence weren’t even Christians; they were deists! This is not only illegal, it’s bad history.

But the legislature thinks that by playing Hide the Button it’s going to get away with murder. The Supreme Court has backed Ten Commandments displays that place the document in a “historical context,” but the Georgian attempt to squeeze its religious agenda under that umbrella is pathetically transparent. It will pass, though, and us taxpayers, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, and atheist alike, will get stuck with the bill. So much for “we the people.”

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