06/28/05 — Power of words: Ten Commandments emphasize nation’s principles

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Power of words: Ten Commandments emphasize nation’s principles

There seems to be something a little less than logical about a Supreme Court ruling that allows just about every other kind of expression there is in a courthouse except the one that might make someone think about justice and doing what’s right.

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling was less than clear about when it is and when it is not OK to display the Ten Commandments. The gist of the decision is that if the display has no overt religious purpose, it is acceptable. And, location is important, too. A display in an open public area would be considered acceptable, while a display in a school hallway would cross the line.

So, we really haven’t lost the ability to display the Ten Commandments, just the right to apply the meaning to them that makes them potent — or to place them in the areas where they might actually make someone think about the principles that should guide their lives.

No one wants the government mixed up in religion. That is not a place where we should make rules and requirements. But what is disturbing about the current phobia about the church-state mix is that religion has been a part of the American tradition since it began. The mention of God and principles is as prevalent in early American writings as the words “freedom” and “rights.”

The Founding Fathers wanted to protect religious expression, not eliminate it.

And religion is still an important part of most Americans’ lives. Many of us attend church at least once a week, and we still say our wedding vows in front of an altar.

And to remove even one more argument from the mix, the principles set forth in the Ten Commandments are present in some form in most religions. They just might be worded a little differently. Since Christianity is the dominant religion in this country, that is the reason we use that format.

So, in the meantime, we can listen to testimony about the alleged murder of a child and make decisions about the future of a county, but we cannot ask those who pass through our courthouses or school buildings to think about what is right and wrong or what principles should guide us in the future.

Words themselves won’t stop a murder or make a man think before cheating a neighbor. However, those words, combined with a little emphasis and prominence, just might make someone think about where they are going and how they want to get there.

Perhaps it is time to worry a little less about what is displayed in our courthouses and school buildings and a little more about the standards and principles that seem to be missing from so many lives in this country.

It’s just a thought.

Published in Editorials on June 28, 2005 11:21 AM