I got another one of those angry emails the other day berating my secular lifestyle, and accusing me of promoting an “anti-American/anti-Christian” agenda. “Our legal system is based on Christian law,” my pen pal wrote, and yet “people like you” (liberals…? Democrats…? Jews…?) “won’t even allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public schools.”
Which got me thinking… if the framers of our Constitution really did intend this to be a Christian nation, they sure didn’t read their Bible, else why would they place our First Amendment in direct contradiction to Commandments one through four?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Commandments One through Four
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Clearly, the Establishment Clause alone explicitly contradicts the first four Commandments (while our precious freedoms of speech and of the press doubly disown the Third Commandment, God dammit). If the God of Exodus is, as written, “a jealous God,” then the Establishment Clause must really piss Him off.
In fact, of the full Ten Commandments, only three, the prohibitions against stealing, murdering and bearing false witness, are currently enshrined in U.S. law in any legally enforceable manner… and, well, they’re kinda obvious as far as moral dictums go, not to mention as basic ground rules for operating a functional society. As for the Tenth Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” it is somewhat ironic to note that its widely practiced violation has become an indispensable component of our dynamic, consumption-driven market economy.
Whether the framers of the Constitution self-identified as Christians or Deists is beside the point, for they were no doubt well educated in Biblical verse, and thus well understood, in a nation largely settled by religious refugees of many different faiths and denominations, both the practical and symbolic impact of the Establishment Clause. Had they intended this to be a Christian nation, they would have enshrined the Ten Commandments in the Constitution, rather than enshrining a Bill of Rights whose first of ten Amendments clearly and intentionally undermines any legal claim supporting the core defining value of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
In America, we have the fundamental right to worship any god or gods in any manner we choose — to bow before idols, to curse the Lord, to forget the Sabbath — even to publicly deny the existence of divinity entirely. So to accuse me of being “anti-American” is to get it backwards; it is those who would make this a Christian nation who are anti-American, for to impose their law as our law, and to legally enforce their Commandments on us, would require tearing up our Constitution, and repealing our most fundamentally American right… a right that gives lie to both the claims and ambitions of our nation’s small but noisy Christianist minority.