Ten Commandments Ruling Reveals Supreme Flaw

From the September-October 2005 Trumpet Print Edition

On June 27, the United States Supreme Court issued two hairsplitting decisions: 1) a Ten Commandments monument outside the Texan state capitol does not violate the Constitution, and 2) the display of the Ten Commandments in several court houses in Kentucky, surrounded by historical symbols and documents is unconstitutional.

These recent decisions concerning the display of the Ten Commandments on public property reveal something critical about contemporary lawmaking.

The U.S. legal system is anything but simple. Americans live in a society where federal statutes and formal rules now total about 100 million words, where federal tax laws take up 36,000 pages, and where agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have conceived 140 separate regulations about wooden ladders.

Laws are increasingly written and rewritten to be more exact, more certain, more air-tight. So, when it comes to interpreting law written years ago—like the “vague” First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—the hairsplitting reaches new heights.

The government cannot make a law “respecting the establishment of religion,” the Bill of Rights says. But what does that mean?

As commentator George Will pointed out, this amendment “was drafted by the First Congress—after it had hired a chaplain” (Washington Post, June 28).

Even Thomas Jefferson, who coined the “wall of separation” phrase concerning church-state affairs, “allowed the War Office and Treasury to be used for religious services that were open to the public. The Supreme Court chamber was also used for services” (ibid.).

On July 4, 1801, a minister took up an offering in the House of Representatives to support services at a nearby hotel.

“The generation that wrote and ratified the First Amendment obviously thought that none of these practices … violated the establishment clause,” said Mr. Will.

But now we live in a time where the interpretation of the law has become so complex as to give one a headache. The Supreme Court’s June 27 decision to allow a monument of the Ten Commandments to remain on one piece of public property but not another is just the latest display of man’s ineptitude in writing, following and judging law.

This should deepen our appreciation for God’s perfect, immutable law—summed up, ironically, in those 10 simple commandments.

For more on the Ten Commandments, please see our article series on theTrumpet.com, from the February 2004 through February 2005 issues.