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A Non-Miracle On 34th Street?
by Daniel Sargis
16 July 2003 Ten Commandments

In yet another example of judicial sophistry, the Eleventh Circuit recently stated that religion includes "the lack of any faith" and prohibited the display of the Ten Commandments in the Alabama State Judicial Building.


One of the great advantages that lawyers have over the average citizen is their deftness at doubletalk.  And since judges are the monarchs of the judicial kingdom you can decide who are the realm’s best double-talkers. 

In a July 1, 2003 Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision prohibiting a Ten Commandments display in the Alabama State Judicial Building (Glassroth v. Moore), the esteemed apostles of the court reaffirmed that, “The Supreme Court has instructed us that for First Amendment purposes religion includes non-Christian faiths and those that do not profess belief in the Judeo-Christian God; indeed, it includes the lack of any faith.”  What is the court saying by including “the lack of any faith” as a religion?

The dividing line between religion and philosophy has always been a very gray area.  One person’s philosophy is another’s religion.  In the same Appellate decision, the court notes that the supreme being of the Alabama State Judicial Building, Chief Justice Roy S. Moore, while responsible for the placement of the Ten Commandments in the building, "denied an atheist group’s request to display a symbol of atheism in the rotunda.”  That symbol, as evidenced by the decision of the federal District Court decision that prompted the appeal was, "a sculpture of an atheist symbol—an atom….”

Since the Supreme Court, as above noted, finds a religion to include “the lack of any faith” wouldn’t that make atheism a religion?  And, if so, would that not make the sculpture of an atom, an avowed “atheist symbol,” equivalent to a crucifix?  Or is the issue really decided on the fervency of one’s belief -- do you just believe in this or do you worship it?  The former espousing a philosophy and the latter proselytizing a religion.

For argument’s sake let’s create a lay definition of religion as a philosophy with a belief in a supreme being or a God not of this world, and let’s exclude both Elvis and little creatures from the Hale-Bopp Comet.  Even with this simplified definition, religion is still not one-dimensional.  Is it a “Revealed” religion like Christianity or an “Unrevealed” religion like Deism?  And, if it’s a “Revealed” religion, how reliable is the revelation’s proof?

How can anybody be certain of an ante-video occurrence of over 2000 years ago when the C.I.A. can’t even accurately analyze the validity of a recent Saddam Hussein home movie?  In the absence of convincing documentation to support a “Divine Revelation” is the Supreme Court willing to nullify the legitimacy of the “Revealed” God and most of the world’s organized religions?  Wouldn’t that be A Non-Miracle On 34th Street.

What the courts have done in deciding Glassroth v. Moore and another Ten Commandments’ case with an opposite outcome, Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia v. Chester County, is modern day judicial sophistry.  Devoid of the guts it takes to define the Ten Commandments as either religious or moralistic, the courts have consistently invoked the waffling Lemon Test, which would be better defined as the Lieutenant Tom Keefer Test.

Determining the Constitutionality of artistic expression (a sculpture of the Ten Commandments) on the three subjective prongs of the Lemon Test—purpose, effect and fostering—is a less than courageous approach to the vital question…is America a moral nation under God. 

To find in one instance that the placement of the Commandments on public property violates separation of church and state because of the artwork’s size, shape and design or motive of the curator, and does not violate the Constitution in another location with a different physical presence or motive, is a subjective usurpation of Free Speech by the courts.  If an Atom sculpture is displayed in the Smithsonian, should its aesthetics or motive be subject to the individual interpretation of a judge?

This is a straightforward issue that the “please all—please none” cowardice of the courts has befuddled.  The Declaration of Independence cites homage to God in four passages of the document. Without dissent, the courts have accepted the fact that there is a God…at least the United States Treasury seems to believe so. And, without dissent, the courts have always accepted the fact that the Ten Commandments served as the moral basis for American law.

In the pre-Renaissance days, the hierarchy of existence was God, State (King) and Individual.  By the Enlightenment, that order had been changed to God, Individual and State.  In an ex post facto manner, the courts seem to be attempting the solidification of a State—Individual—God hierarchy.  God, or any concept of a moral being greater than the law of the State, seems to be a governmental conundrum.  How can the State reign supreme over its people with the pesky concept of morality superceding State authority?  Easy…just label morals as religion and negate their intervention in the governmental hierarchy…but do pay some convoluted lip service to the “moral concept” for the sake of the rabble.

The question sure to be raised to the Supreme Court as a result of these lower court decisions is the context of the Ten Commandments in American society.  If the court has any guts, it will “Reveal” a clear and easily understood decision...either the Commandments are guiding moral principles in any venue or they are religious sacraments unfit for display on public property.  If they decide the latter most basic American laws will have to be rescinded since it is upon the tablets of Moses that they are based.
 


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