|| next || End the Wall! || e-mail || V&FT ||

The Ten Commandments in American History

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
From: kevin4vft@aol.com (KEVIN4VFT)
Date: 09 Jan 1999 18:19:31 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.

I just reviewed your post. There is not to be found the citation of a single legal authority. Your post can be summed up thus:
"Well, *I* can't think of anything!"

>If it was based on the decalog then
>where is the law prohibiting worship of any god but yours? Where is the law
>which says I can't take the lords name in vain? Where are these christian

These commandments are not directed toward the state, but to you as an individual. Nevertheless, governments in the Common Law tradition have indeed sought to enforce the Ten Commandments, all ten of them, and encourage obedience to them, and America is no exception, the Constitution no barrier.
I'll respond to your original post point-by-point, or should I say, commandment by commandment.

Note, BTW, that I am not proving that there is something magical about the Ten Commandments. Our legal system was not built upon the Ten Commandments alone, but upon the entire body of Biblical Law. Here is an example from the Supreme Court of Delaware:

Long before Lord Hale declared that Christianity was a part of the laws of England, the Court of Kings Bench, 34 Eliz. in Ratcliff's case, 3 Coke Rep. 40, b. had gone so far as to declare that "in almost all cases, the common law was grounded on the law of God, which it was said was causa causans," and the court cited the 27th chapter of Numbers, to show that their judgment on a common law principle in regard to the law of inheritance, was founded on God's revelation of that law to Moses.
State v. Chandler, 2 Harr. 553 at 561 (1837)

The Decalogue: Cornerstone of Jurisprudence

God's Law in American History

Ten Commandments Displays

Affidavit in Support of the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments in American Legal History

1st || 2nd || 3rd || 4th || 5th || 6th || 7th || 8th || 9th || 10th

Public Papers of the Presidents, Truman, 1945, p.435 Item 178
Address on Foreign Policy at the Navy Day Celebration in New York City.
October 27, 1945

Now, that is the foreign policy which guides the United States. That is the foreign policy with which it confidently faces the future.

It may not be put into effect tomorrow or the next day. But nonetheless, it is our policy; and we shall seek to achieve it. It may take a long time, but it is worth waiting for, and it is worth striving to attain.

The Ten Commandments themselves have not yet been universally achieved over these thousands of years. Yet we struggle constantly to achieve them, and in many ways we come closer to them each year. Though we may meet setbacks from time to time, we shall not relent in our efforts to bring the Golden Rule into the international affairs of the world

Posting of religious texts on the wall serves no . . . educational function. If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.

United States Supreme Court
Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980)
Banning the Ten Commandments from Public Schools

Public Papers of the Presidents,
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957, p.695
Item 199 Statement by the President on the Occasion of the Jewish High Holy Days.
September 26, 1957
[Released September 26, 1957. Dated August 23, 1957]

AT THE BEGINNING of the Jewish New Year, it is fitting for all to give thanks for the past twelve months and to look to the future with confidence born of the mercy of God.

The blessings of life and the freedoms all of us enjoy in this land today are based in no small measure on the Ten Commandments which have been handed down to us by the religious teachers of the Jewish faith. These Commandments of God provide endless opportunities for fruitful service, and they are a stronghold of moral purpose for men everywhere.

In this season, as our fellow citizens of the Jewish faith bow their heads in prayer and lift their eyes in hope, we offer them the best wishes of our hearts.


God and the Americans
Paul Johnson

Commentary Magazine,
The American Jewish Committee
January 1995
Paul Johnson, the eminent British author, has already produced A History of Christianity and A History of the Jews, and is currently at work on A History of the American People. Among his many other books are Modern Times and The Birth of the Modern; and The Quotable Paul Johnson, edited by George J. Marlin, Richard P. Rabatin, and Heather Richardson Higgins, has just been published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The present essay is based on a series of three lectures he delivered this past October at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, inaugurating the Gilder Lehrman Institute Lectures in American History.

So American freedom and independence were brought about essentially by a religious coalition, which provided the rank and file of a movement led by a more narrowly based elite of Enlightenment men. John Adams, who had lost his original religious faith, nonetheless recognized the essential role played by religion in unifying the majority of the people behind the independence movement and giving them common beliefs and aims:

One great advantage of the Christian religion is that it brings the great principle of the law of nature and nations, love your neighbor as yourself, and do to others as you would have that others should do to you—to the knowledge, belief, and veneration of the whole people. Children, servants, women, and men are all professors in the science of public as well as private morality…The duties and rights of the man and the citizen are thus taught from early infancy.

What in effect John Adams was implying, albeit he was a secularist and a nonchurchman, was that the form of Christianity which had developed in America was a kind of ecumenical and unofficial state religion, a religion suited by its nature, not by any legal claims, to be given recognition by the republic because it was itself the civil and moral creed of republicanism.

Hence, though the Constitution and the Bill of Rights made no provision for a state church—quite the contrary—there was an implied and unchallenged understanding that America was a religious country, that the republic was religious not necessarily in its forms but in its bones, that it was inconceivable that it could have come into existence, or could continue and flourish, without an overriding religious sentiment pervading every nook and cranny of its society. This religious sentiment was based on the Scriptures and the Decalogue, was embodied in the moral consensus of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and manifested itself in countless forms of mainly Christian worship.

Since American religion was a collection of [p.32] faiths, coexisting in mutual tolerance, there was no alternative but to create a secular state entirely separated from any church. But there was an unspoken understanding that, in an emotional sense, the republic was not secular. It was still the City upon a Hill, watched over and safeguarded by divine providence, and constituting a beacon of enlightenment and an exemplar of conduct for the rest of the world.

This is what President Washington clearly intended to convey in the key passage of his farewell address of 1796. Though he was careful to observe the constitutional and secularist forms, the underlying emotion was plainly religious in inspiration. He implied, indeed, that the voice of the American people was a providential one, and that in sustaining him both as their general and their first President, and enabling the republic to be born and to survive and flourish, it had been giving expression to a providential plan:

Profoundly penetrated by this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest token of its beneficence—that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual—that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained—that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue—that in fine the happiness of the people of these states, under the auspices of liberty, [may be preserved] by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation, which is yet a stranger to it.

In Washington's world view, then, the city was still upon a hill, the new nation was still elect, its creation and mission were providential, or as he put it, "sacredly maintained," under heaven, the recipient of a unique "blessing" in the historical plan of the deity for humanity. That is not so far from Governor Winthrop's view, though so much had happened in the meantime; and it would continue to be the view of the American majority for the next century and a half.

We conclude that Kentucky's statute requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school rooms has no secular legislative purpose, and is therefore unconstitutional.

United States Supreme Court
Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980)
Banning the Ten Commandments from Public Schools

Paul Johnson: Artist, Poet, and Author
Crisis Magazine, Vol. 12, No. 11, December 1994, p.45

CRISIS caught up with Paul Johnson on his recent visit to the United States. In this wide ranging and candid interview, the prolific British writer speaks . . . his own spiritual journey, his forthcoming book on America, and democratic capitalism. Mr. Johnson also reveals his penchant for writing poetry and painting watercolors.

Q. What will your book say about religion in America?

Johnson: In many ways America is the most religious country on earth. Religion is part of the very bones of American history. The country was founded for religious reasons—people forget this. It is the only major country where most people go to church regularly. Although the American Constitution is secular, and for very good reasons, it doesn't mean it is a non-religious Constitution. This tends to be forgotten. America is a very religious country. This general consensus, which is a moral consensus rather than a dogmatic or doctrinal consensus, was the cement of American unity. It was the fuel for the melting pot where millions of people who came from abroad were turned into Americans because they embraced the American view of morality, which is essentially based on the Ten Commandments.

In Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963), this Court held unconstitutional the daily reading of Bible verses and the Lord's Prayer in the public schools, despite the school district's assertion of such secular purposes as "the promotion of moral values, the contradiction to the materialistic trends of our times, the perpetration of our institutions and the teaching of literature." Id., at 223.

United States Supreme Court
Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980)
Banning the Ten Commandments from Public Schools

Public Papers of the Presidents
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1943, Item 23
Radio Address on Washington's Birthday.
February 22, 1943

Some Americans during the War of the Revolution sneered at the very principles of the Declaration of Independence. It was impractical, they said- it was "idealistic"—to claim that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights."

The skeptics and the cynics of Washington's day did not believe that ordinary men and women have the capacity for freedom and self-government. They said that liberty and equality were idle dreams that could not come true—just as today there are many Americans who sneer at the determination to attain freedom from want and freedom from fear, on the ground that these are ideals which can never be realized. They say it is ordained that we must always have poverty, and that we must always have war.

You know; they are like the people who carp at the Ten Commandments because some people are in the habit of breaking one or more of them.

We Americans of today know that there would have been no successful outcome to the Revolution, even after eight long years—the Revolution that gave us liberty—had it not been for George Washington's faith, and the fact that that faith overcame the bickerings and confusion and the doubts which the skeptics and cynics provoked.

When kind history books tell us of Benedict Arnold, they omit dozens of other Americans who, beyond peradventure of a doubt, were also guilty of treason.

We know that it was Washington's simple, steadfast faith that kept him to the essential principles of first things first. His sturdy sense of proportion brought to him and his followers the ability to discount the smaller difficulties and concentrate on the larger objectives. And the objectives of the American Revolution were so large—so unlimited—that today they are among the primary objectives of the entire civilized world.

It was Washington's faith—and, with it, his hope and his charity—which was responsible for the stamina of Valley Forge—and responsible for the prayer at Valley Forge.

Public Papers of the Presidents
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1943, Item 96
Address at Ottawa, Canada.
August 25, 1943

I am everlastingly angry only at those who assert vociferously that the four freedoms and the Atlantic Charter are nonsense because they are unattainable. If those people had lived a century and a half ago they would have sneered and said that the Declaration of Independence was utter piffle. If they had lived nearly a thousand years ago they would have laughed uproariously at the ideals of Magna Charta. And if they had lived several thousand years ago they would have derided Moses when he came from the Mountain with the Ten Commandments.

We concede that these great teachings are not perfectly lived up to today, but I would rather be a builder than a wrecker, hoping always that the structure of life is growing— not dying.

May the destroyers who still persist in our midst decrease. They, like some of our enemies, have a long road to travel before they accept the ethics of humanity.

Some day, in the distant future perhaps—but some day, it is certain—all of them will remember with the Master, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

In Allegheny v. ACLU, the Court condemned a nativity scene depicting the birth of "the Master" based on the "seprationist" mythology first set forth in Everson v Bd of Education (1947). In Allegheny, the Court
squarely rejects any notion that this Court will tolerate some government endorsement of religion. Rather, [we] recognize[] any endorsement of religion as "invalid," id., at 690, because it "sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community," id., at 688.
Allegheny County v.Greater Pittsburgh ACLU,
492 U.S. 573, 595 (1989)

|| next || End the Wall! || e-mail || V&FT ||

Jefferson Balances Rights and Duties

Russell Kirk on the Decalogue and the Founders

The Ten Commandments in American Legal History

1st || 2nd || 3rd || 4th || 5th || 6th || 7th || 8th || 9th || 10th

Christmas Conspiracy


Vine & Fig Tree

Paradigm Shift


End The Wall of Separation
Mailing List

Enter your e-mail address:
Browse the Theocracy Archive
An e-group hosted by eGroups.com

Vine & Fig Tree
12314 Palm Dr. #107
Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240
[e-mail to V&FT]
[V&FT Home Page]