The Hjelle Jar

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

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On April 20th, 1999, two teenage gunmen swept through Columbine high school in Littleton, Colorado. Their horrendous act of killing has been seared in America's memory. The pain from this tragedy has prompted an important debate: should the Ten Commandments - the Decalogue - be allowed to be posted in American schools? Currently, ten states - Colorado, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida - are considering laws to allow or even require the posting of the Ten Commandments in public places. This issue will likely be affecting you and your state soon. My purpose today is to convince you that we must allow the Decalogue to be displayed in public schools - an idea of which only three out of nine respondents in this class are convinced. First, I will show that displaying the Ten Commandments is definitely Constitutional. Second, I will show you the importance of the Ten Commandments.

First, there is one primary reason against displaying the Ten Commandments: the 1980 Stone v. Graham Supreme Court decision. Here, the Court decided that, "A Kentucky statute requiring the posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments, purchased with private contributions, on the wall of each public school classroom in the State has no secular legislative purpose, and therefore is unconstitutional as violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment." Basically, Kentucky couldn't require the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools because of the First Amendment. (Found at findlaw.com.)

But, Congress is certainly allowed to pass new laws. And, as Janet Parshall the of Family Research Council noted in the July 4, 1999 Las Vegas Review-Journal, our government is based on "the idea of a balance and separation of powers, not on executive, legislative, or judicial supremacy." She points out that past practice shows that new laws passed by Congress may be in spite of Supreme Court decisions. For instance, in Dred Scott v. Sanford, a 1857 Supreme Court case, Congress's ban on slavery was overturned. But, the "Territorial Freedom Act" was passed by Congress in 1862, overturning Dred Scott. Congress is certainly allowed to do the same with the Stone case.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist's dissenting opinion in Stone v. Graham gives reasons why posting the Decalogue would be completely constitutional. "The Establishment Clause [popularly known as separation of church and state] does not require that the public sector be insulated from all things which may have a religious significance or origin." He also quoted Justice Jackson of 1948 McCollum v. Board of Education decision, "The fact is that, for good or for ill, nearly everything in our culture worth transmitting, everything which gives meaning to life, is saturated with religious influences, derived from paganism, Judaism, Christianity - both Catholic and Protestant - and other faiths accepted by a large part of the world's peoples."

So, posting of the Ten Commandments would be completely constitutional. That brings me to my second point, the importance of the Ten Commandments.

In the Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States case of 1892 the Supreme Court said, "If we examine the constitutions of the various states we find in them a constant recognition of religious obligations. Every constitution of every one of the forty-two states contains language which either directly or by clear implication recognizes a profound reverence for religion and an assumption that its influence in all human affairs is essential to the well-being of the community." (This information was found in the article "The Ten Commandments Belong in Schools" by Kevin Hoeft of the Family Research Council, on their website at frc.org.) Additionally, in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), the Court said, "There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789." (From the American Center for Law and Justice's memo called "Government, Religious Displays and the Establishment Clause.")

It is this religious heritage that is vitally important to us as a nation, especially in the face of tragedies like Columbine. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 states, "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." John MacArthur, in his MacArthur Study Bible, comments on these verses: "The people were to think about these commandments and meditate on them so that obedience would not be a matter of formal legalism, but a response based upon understanding." We were horrified by Columbine and gruesome murders. But without continual reminder of God's commands for us to live by, such as the Ten Commandments, obedience to God's commands cannot be expected.

I have, first, convinced you that displaying the Decalogue is completely constitutional. Stone v. Graham can be reversed. Second, the Ten Commandments are not only constitutional but are necessary in our society today, as part of the religious heritage and principles of this nation. We need to support legislation re-allowing the Ten Commandments in our schools. Perhaps, if our nation acknowledges the faith of Americans, more Columbine's can be avoided.

Works Cited

"Government Religious Displays and the Establishment Clause." American Center for Law and Justice. On-line. April 1, 2000. http://www.aclj.org/reldis_mem.html.

Hoeft, Kevin. "The Ten Commandments Belong in Schools." The Family Research Council. On-line. April 1, 2000. http://www.frc.org/perspective/pv99i1ed.html.

MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Study Bible. Commentary on Deuteronomy 6:6.

Parshall, Janet. "Should the Ten Commandments be Displayed in Public Schools?" Las Vegas Review-Journal July 4, 1999. On-line. April 1, 2000. http://www.frc.org/articles/ar99g6rg.html.

Rosin, Hanna and William Claiborne. "Indiana Takes the Ten Commandments to the Masses." The Washington Post February 8, 2000. On-line. April 1, 2000. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22685-2000Feb7.html.

Stone v. Graham. Supreme Court Opinion. On-line. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.plnavby=volpage%26court=US%26vol=449%26page=41.

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