Ye Olde Ten Commandments

Three young boys—a Protestant, a Catholic, and a Jew—unveiled a bronze plaque on the courthouse wall in Montgomery County, Maryland. A plaque that proudly displayed the Ten Commandments, the moral basis for American law. Believe it or not, there was no outcry in the press. No threat of lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union. The president's wife even sent a congratulatory letter. The reason the incident sounds so foreign to our ears is that it happened not this year but some 50 years ago, in 1940. But now the ACLU has apparently decided to make up for lost time. Recently the group demanded that the plaque be taken down, reciting the familiar jeremiad that it blurs the separation of church and state. The citizens of Montgomery County resisted the ACLU's intrusion, holding protest rallies in the Courthouse Square. Finally, Circuit Judge Paul Weinstein came up with a solomonic decree: He ruled that the Ten Commandments could stay—so long as other plaques were added alongside it. To pass constitutional muster, the judge said, the plaque must be part of a "historical display," which might include other ancient sources of law such as the Code of Hammurabi dating back to Babylon and the Code of Justinian the Great of ancient Rome. The judge's ruling may sound even-handed, but the truth is that it's another example of politically correct revisionism. As a matter of historical fact, it was not these other legal codes that influenced the founders of our nation. Listen to the words of John Adams. "As much as I love, esteem, and admire the [ancient] Greeks," Adams said, "I believe the Hebrews have done more to enlighten and civilize the world. Moses did more than all their legislators and philosophers" [emphasis added]. The American founders were not afraid to acknowledge that our laws have their foundation in the Christian religion. The same founders who ratified the Constitution also passed the Northwest Ordinance, which states forthrightly that "religion [and] morality" are "necessary to good government." In short, they would never have worried about a courthouse honoring the Ten Commandments as the major source of American law. In fact, as recently as 1940, when the plaque was erected, no one worried. Only within recent decades has the ACLU been trying to re-write constitutional history to make it appear hostile to the biblical tradition. The Maryland case is simply the latest example. It's time for Christians everywhere to insist that this is not a question of church and state but of historical accuracy—a task that grows all the more crucial as we realize that law cannot survive without a moral and religious foundation. If we deny that foundation, then law loses its compelling force. And the result is evident before us today: crime and bloodshed taking over our streets. Think of it this way: Would you rather walk the streets of America's cities in the 1940s, when the Ten Commandments were displayed proudly—or the streets of the 1990s, when the Ten Commandments are being taken down? The answer is sadly obvious.


Chuck Colson


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