The Ten Commandments Are for Everyone

It is unfortunate that one of humanity’s most basic recognitions of natural law should create division.

A school bus makes its way past a marker depicting the Ten Commandments outside of Peebles High School Nov. 20, 2002, in Peebles, Ohio.
A school bus makes its way past a marker depicting the Ten Commandments outside of Peebles High School Nov. 20, 2002, in Peebles, Ohio. (photo: Mike Simons / Getty Images)

The state of Louisiana just passed a law requiring all public classrooms to display a small poster with the Ten Commandments.

Already it has stirred up those who oppose even the slightest suggestion of the mixing of state and religion.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group, said it’s writing up a lawsuit that will argue the new law is “unconstitutional as it violates the separation of church and state.” The group says the promotion of the Ten Commandments is tantamount to promoting religious doctrine.

For his part, Gov. Jeff Landry told The (Nashville) Tennessean that the Ten Commandments provide an important lesson for students.

“If you want to respect the rule of law,” he told the newspaper, “you’ve got to start from the original lawgiver, which was Moses.”

It is unfortunate that one of the most basic examples of natural law should create division. The Ten Commandments are not so much religious — though they are of a religious origin, as they appear in the Old Testament — but more a guide for the religious and non-religious alike for a harmonious society.

The late rapper DMX understood this perfectly: “The truth doesn’t change. It was the same when Moses got the Ten Commandments as it is today. That’s the thing about the truth. That’s the thing about real. It doesn’t change and it doesn’t have to change. Now you can put it in a different book, but it’s still real. It’s still the truth.”

It promotes peace rather than conflict. That’s something all citizens should abide by.

The words “church” and “state” do not appear in the U.S. Constitution. However, it does state that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

But that’s not the end of the story.

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” God is also mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance (“one nation under God”).

In 2018, Roy Moore, the then-chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, had a 5,000-pound slab installed in front of the courthouse depicting the tablets of the Ten Commandments. The monument was not to last. A federal court ruled that the slab violated the constitution and ordered it removed.

But does displaying the Ten Commandments really violate the Constitution?

Consider what Moses brought to the world.

The 4th through 10th Commandments are less religious than a formula for civil society. Think of them as promoting societal norms that allow for respect and peace:

  • “Honor your father and your mother.”
  • “You shall not murder.”
  • “You shall not commit adultery.”
  • “You shall not steal.”
  • “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
  • “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.”
  • “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.”

These can hardly be called sectarian. Is there a religious or secular group that disapproves of any of these rules?

The 1st through 3rd Commandments is where those who fear religion make their argument:

  • “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange Gods before me.”
  • “You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.”
  • “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”

For Jews, Muslims and Christians these three make perfect sense. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a secular group, found 71% of Louisiana adults to be highly religious, with almost all praying daily.

It also found 89% of adults believing in God and a mere 2% identifying as atheist.

Yet atheists in their tiny number have often called the shots these days and imposed their beliefs on the vast majority.

But to acknowledge the views of atheists, especially militant atheists, are they being put upon by the state?

One way of thinking about “having no other gods before me” and “you shall not make idols” is that we should never raise a man to the status of a god. That is what happened with Mao, Stalin and Hitler, and most everyone knows the hideous results of the giant mistake.

Finally, the 2nd and 3rd Commandments (about taking the Lord’s name in vain and keeping the Sabbath holy) can apply to everyone. No one should disrespect another’s faith or even lack of religious faith, and keeping the Sabbath day would create a society where, for at least one day each week, work and consumerism would no longer be secular gods.

Fair to say that even atheists wouldn’t mind a break from the rat race once in a blue moon.