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The Ten Commandments in American History
The Second Commandment

This page is taken from America OnLine's "Separation of Church and State" Bulletin Board. (Jump works only for AOL subscribers.) I was told by one of the Secular Humanist contributors that Christianity had nothing to do with the legal system created by the Founding Fathers. My response:

Subject: Re: The Decalog & U.S. law -- Second Commandment
From: kevin4vft@aol.com (KEVIN4VFT)
Date: 09 Jan 1999 18:19:23 EST

In article <19990102133927.05500.00005977@ng-fa2.aol.com>, xaosjester@aol.com (XaosJester) writes:

>Kevin says: "All you asserted was that [all] other cultures prohibit the same
>things prohibited in the Bible. You did not prove that the Common Law
>was based on Chinese or Arabic law or the code of Hammurabi."
>I did not try to prove what common law was based on. What I did prove was
>that it was not based on the decalog.

Let's review his original post and see if there really is any "proof."

In article <19981229154902.11217.00003483@ng37.aol.com>, xaosjester@aol.com (XaosJester) writes:

>The claim by many christian accomadationists that the decalog is the basis of
>U.S. law is patently false and easily disproved.
> 2.
>Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing
>that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the
>water under the earth.
>Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy
>God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children
>unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
>And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my
>If I want to make a graven image of what I think god looks like there is no
>U.S. law which would prevent me from doing so.

It is true that the Protestant Reformers were convinced that the Second Commandment was tailor-made for the Catholics. But the government does not involve itself in the liturgical battles of the christian ecclesiocrats. As a result, if you want to build a little idol and "worship" it, or even form a denomination and obtain 510(c)(3) status, you probably can.

But anyone familiar with Biblical history knows that the real offense of idolatry was not the mere building of the idol, but the lawless and immoral practices associated with worshipping it, such as ritual prostitution and child sacrifice. Does the Constitution permit you to "bow down and SERVE" your idols in this sense? Not one single Signer of the Constitution would agree that you could.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in Commonwealth v. Nesbit 84 Pa. 398 (1859), in considering laws which will be examined under the Fourth Commandment, noted that although "the public acts of our Pennsylvania ancestors abound with declarations in favor of liberty of conscience," there were limitations on that liberty, and that liberty did not include bowing down and SERVING idols:

The [Founders] could not admit [liberty of conscience] as a civil justification of human sacrifices, or parricide, infanticide, or thuggism [assassination or banditry commanded by a religion], or of such modes of worship as the disgusting and corrupting rites of the Dionysia, and Aphrodisia, and Eleusinia, and other festivals of Greece and Rome.
They did not mean that the pure moral customs which Christianity has introduced should be without legal protection because some pagan, or other religionist, or anti-religionist, should advocate as a matter of conscience concubinage, polygamy, incest, free love, and free divorce, or any of them.
They did not mean that phallic processions and satyric dances and obscene songs and indecent statues and paintings of ancient or of modern paganism might be introduced under the profession of religion, or pleasure, or conscience, to seduce the young and the ignorant into a Corinthian degradation; to offend the moral sentiment of a refined Christian people; and to compel Christian modesty to associate with the nudity and impurity of Polynesian or of Spartan women. No Christian people could possibly allow such things. . . .
at 406-407

The First Amendment, to this extent, did not override the Second Commandment, and those forms of idolatry that were most offensive to Christian morality were prohibited by law.

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