Wednesday, July 06, 2005

O'Connor resignation "good" for the Ten Commandments?

Well, I was going to leave well enough alone on this Ten Commandments in public areas issue, but another article, at National Review this time, has inspired me to lay this out as best I can once again.

The piece's author, Vincent Phillip Munoz, says that Supreme Court justice Sandra Day-O'Connor's recent resignation from the United States' highest court could mean that those pesky obstructionists who want to remove religion from the public square will now have less power to... oh, I don't know, maybe hand the nation over to the sweaty palms of the American Civil Liberties Union or something. Whatever it is, he seems happy that the possibility of prayer in public schools and religious symbolism is perhaps stronger now that O'Connor, who voted against Ten Commandments displays in both the Kentucky and Texas decisions, is out of the picture.

I don't want prayer in schools. I don't want the Ten Commandments in courthouses. I don't want the word "God" to appear in the pledge of allegiance or on our currency. And here's why: mixing religion in government has not been a demonstrably positive influence on world history, and regardless of our "political and cultural heritage," I'd rather stay away from it altogether.

The conservatives who argue that the "establishment clause" of the Constitution prohibits only "establishment" and not "endorsement" usually share one common trait -- they're Christian. There's nothing wrong with being Christian, but one wonders what these same conservatives would be saying about allowing endorsement if the majority of our population was Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu. I sincerely doubt they'd be crowing as loud if it were the Pillars of Islam that were being posted in state courthouses.

The next point is that posting religious symbols in public areas does nothing to enhance the religious experience of individuals. Nothing. Again, anyone whose personal faith is so weak that they require something like the Ten Commandments posted where everyone can see them probably does not give even a fraction of a whit whether they're posted or not.

How about this? When it comes to posting the commandments in courthouses, doesn't it seem strange that the Ten Commandments are a different set of laws than the ones being enforced by the state or federal government? I might be a little rusty, but I don't remember seeing any United States law requiring citizens to respect their parents, regardless of how good an idea that is. Nor does the United States prohibit coveting the goods or the spouse of neighbors, or the taking of the Lord's name in vain -- Heck, the FCC will even let you do that on television now.

Most importantly, if and when I have children, I don't need them to learn about God, religion, faith, or anything spiritual from a government institution. Some may feel that it's failure on the part of parents when their children don't learn about God, but that certainly doesn't mean that it's the government's responsibility to pick up the slack. If kids are going to pray, then they should do it in the tradition their family has upheld or decided upon. Even those who are Christian should resist playing along with the version "endorsed" by the government.

Now, that being said, I want to make it clear to those who will call me a heathen, communist, ACLU-loving Jesus-hater that while I don't want our government to endorse any religion, I similarly don't want the government taking away anyone's right to freely express and practice their religion. That means that you should be able to mention God in commencement addresses and speak your mind about religion in public without fear of being censured by the government or by lawsuit-thirsty "special interests" who feel that their sensibilities have been offended by someone else's protected free expression.

This isn't "subjective," as Munoz seems to think. It's simple separation of church and state, and it's the way our country's supposed to operate.

The real thing for me is that this insistence on state-sponsored religious activity and demonstration bespeaks a reliance on the government to act as a parent. If someone's going to say grace before they eat, then let them. But we certainly don't need a reminder from our congressman, senator, Supreme Court justice, or president to do it.


UPDATE: Open Post at Mudville!