Try to forget for the moment that there's more than
one version of the Ten Commandments. Jews have one, Catholics have
another, and Protestants have yet another.
But just pretend, for the sake of argument, that there's
only one versionthe one that Roy S. Moore, Chief Justice (suspended)
of the Alabama Supreme Court, inscribed on a two-and-a-half ton
granite monument and placed in the rotunda of the state judicial
courthouse in Montgomery two years ago. And it's the one that the
feds last week moved to a back room out of the public view.
Because, the feds said, it violated separation of church and
Protesters hollered "God-haters!" at the feds.
Justice Moore's reason for having the Ten Commandments there
in the first place, he said, was that they are "the moral foundation
of law," and thus appropriate in any courtroom.
Made sense to me. I hadn't read the commandments in a while.
But then I read a letter to the New York Times pointing out
that only three of the commandments have "parallels in U.S. law." So
I read them again, and sure enough, only three resembled any laws I'd
The three are short ones: VI. "Thou shalt not kill," VIII.
"Thou shalt not steal," and IX. "Thou shalt not bear false witness
against thy neighbour."
The other seven talk about things our laws take no interest
So I had another thought: if our laws parallel only three
of the Ten Commandments, maybe the fault isn't with the commandments
so much as with the laws. Maybe we should add at least seven more so
that all ten commandments could be represented. You know, because a
little legal coercion might make us more pleasing to the Old Testament
God who gave the tablets to Moses.
I. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Violators
might include over-enthusiastic Husker fans, movie buffs, Elvis
worshippers, etc., all of whom would rather pay homage to their idols
than go to church. Punishment would be a month of Sundays in the
stocks being ridiculed by church-goers chanting "Neener, neener,
II. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images" to be
worshipped in place of God. Among the violators would be those just
crazy about looking at the graven images on their paper currency,
especially those of Grover Cleveland ($1,000), James Madison ($5,000),
and Salmon Chase ($10,000). We could sentence them to a year in the
U.S. Mint, pouring molten copper into forms for making pennies and not
letting them wear gloves to handle the hot stuff.
III. "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in
vain." This would especially apply to those being sworn into public
office who say "So help me God" when they don't intend to follow any
Divine Advice other than that of Karl Rove. Violators would be
publicly ridiculed and made to appear on "Saturday Night Live."
The Truth, Mainly
IV. "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." Forgetful
types would be punished by losing their jobs so that all days are
indistinguishable from the sabbath and they'll go nuts trying to keep
them all holy just to be safe.
V. "Honour thy father and thy mother." Those who fail to
do so, as judged by their fathers and mothers, shall be punished by
their own childrenwho shall, in exchange for ice cream cones, do
whatever their grandparents tell them to do.
VII. "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Violators shall be
tricked by the FBI into renting a motel room next door to the room
being rented by their spouses, whereupon TV camera men will catch all
four of them exiting their rooms when the fire alarms go off in time
to make the ten o'clock news.
X. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt
not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his
maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy
neighbour's." Violators will be sentenced to a lifetime of figuring
out why everything the neighbour has is better than everything the
violator has, and being asked repeatedly by his wife, "And whose fault
is that, Buddy Boy?"
What's that you say? Government already has too much power
If all this seems too controlling, too intrusive, too much
an invasion of our privacy, maybe we should give up Justice Roy
Moore's notion that the Ten Commandments are the moral foundation of
Maybe we should acknowledge that the moral foundations of
our laws are the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of
Independence, and that both documents are mostly the work of
Enlightenment revolutionaries who'd had a bellyful of theocracy.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail