Thursday, March 03, 2005

Decalogue May Deck First Amendment

The Supreme Court heard arguments over ten commandments monuments yesterday. It is obvious that Justice Scalia believes the constitution permits the establishment of the majority religion. Here's what he said:
Justice Antonin Scalia saw a different problem in the court's precedents, noting that they effectively force governments to adopt nonreligious pretexts for what should be unabashed religious displays.

The Commandments, he told Chemerinsky, are "a symbol that government authority comes from God, and that's appropriate." When Chemerinsky objected that "it is a profoundly religious message," Scalia responded: "It is a profoundly religious message, but it's shared by the vast majority of the people. . . . It seems to me the minority has to be tolerant of the majority's view."

Scalia has turned separation of church and state on its head. The first amendment was designed to assure equal rights and tolerance for the minority faiths.

There is little doubt in my mind that the majority would be highly offended if the symbols of minority faiths were place prominently on public property. For anecdotal evidence, read the reaction of the Southern Baptist State Convention Executive to the Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection that I organized on the steps of the Oklahoma state capitol last year.

If SCOTUS permits posting ten commandment monuments on public property it will create a public forum for all religions. People of all faiths and people of no faith have the right to express themselves in a public forum. If atheists and people of minority faiths and their symbols are excluded from such participation, then they are in fact second-class citizens with lesser rights than the majority and we will in fact have officially established a majoritarian religion.

Majorities can change. Force your faith on people long enough and, sooner or later, a majority will reject it.

People who are genuinely concerned about the credibility of the majority faith ought to be the strongest proponents of keeping church and state separate. They are also going to have to start becoming more vocal and visible with their support for the First Amendment.


jtr said...

Majorities can change. Force your faith on people long enough and, sooner or later, a majority will reject it.This is a brilliant statement. Seriously. I have been on a steady move toward full-libertarianism on this very principle. If the majority can decide that, say, marijuana use should be banned, can the majority ban public displays of religious preference such as carrying Bibles uncovered or wearing those "Christian" t-shirts, similar to laws recently enacted in France banning Muslim headscarves, Jewish yarmulkas, and crosses? I oppose drug use. I think it destroys lives. What will happen, though, when the majority in this country determines that the Christian religion destroys lives? The only way I can guarantee *my* freedom is to guarantee the freedom of *others*, even when I oppose their outward expression of that freedom.

Anonymous said...

That a mounment in Austin that virtually no ones sees establishes Christianity as the religion of the country is nonsense. Banning certain kinds of monuments on public property is just as coercive as banning headscarves or Bible carrying on public property. What if the Moslems become the majority and put a statue of Mohammed among the statues in Austin? It only reflects that many people in the nation think Islam has contributed something to the nation. It doesn't establish their religion as long as they don't tax me to support it, and the statue in Austin was erected at private expense. If something does not cost me money or coerce my actions, it is not fostered upon me. To say every statue on public property must reflect a secular theme makes for a very narrow and sterile artistic environment and honors only the god of secularism.

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...


You are confusing "secular theme" with the Supreme Court's understanding of "secular purpose."

I'm not talking about that at all. I'm talking about the creation of a public forum on public property. I doubt that many evangelical Christians in Oklahoma will be as open to monuments from minority faiths as you seem to be. That is the problem.

Anonymous said...

>Decalogue May Deck First Amendment...

I don't understand this logic. Are you saying the decision to keep the 10 commandments displayed in the places that they already are is dangerous to the first amendment? Wouldn't the danger have been at the time of their first display?

>If SCOTUS permits posting ten commandment monuments on public property it will create a public forum for all religions.

...but the SCOTUS has BEEN permitting this for years. The fact that it was the 10 commandments displayed around the country and not the symbols of atheists or other faiths tells us something about our nation's past, and priorities - something, by the way, that liberals will usually try to deny or revise history on. I guess if they are removed, it'll be easier to convince the young that "the faith of our past" was greatly exaggerated. Also, it seems to me that the removing of the Decalogue displays would be unwise, at it would be going against the principle in Proverbs 22:28 - which I believe to be applicable today.


Anonymous said...

It would seem to me to be very hard to separate religious theme from religious purpose. We can make the monument "sort of" religious but not "too" religious. Thus the Justices worrying over how many times the word "God" appears on the monument. I think we need the Pharisees to help us out on this one.

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...

Roger and Anonymous,

The answers to your objections are covered in Thom Hartmann's essay on "Moses didn't write the constitution."

Here's a link.

Anonymous said...


That link didn't address these questions: How are the 10 commandment displays, as they currently stand, a harm to the first amendment? Why are some people trying to get them removed now - after they've been in place for so many years?

I don't see how we can make the case that they have caused harm. We are not a theocracy (despite what liberals say - and despite the 10 commandments having been displayed) and people in this country are free to believe or not to believe in them.


Anonymous said...

I read the Hartmann article. Here is the the problem. Not only is it very hard to separate religious theme from religious purpose, it is hard to separate religious idea from secular idea, and the nonsense of trying to do so. An idea is an idea. Once one understands this we will see that all our laws depend upon good sense which we preserve through freedom of speech and viligant argument, not by elevating one "kind" of idea above another. The protection of minorities is protection of their speech, their right to their own sectarian institutions, the right not to support financially other sectarian institutions. It does not free them from the majority view of morality or a majority view of value. In fact this would be impossible without a country in fact being run my the moral view of the minority or the minority view of value. Historically the Ten Commandments came from the Jews. But if the majority of gentiles now values them for their own worth, so be it. In a free society you are never free from someone else's IDEA.
You must follow the money. Does it go to support a sectarian institution or not. In this regard you will see that faith based social services, though I believed they passed constitutional muster, are really much more of a concern.