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Austin Cline

No Middle Ground on Ten Commandments

By March 19, 2005

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There are many Christians who want very badly for the government to erect monuments to the Ten Commandments. If they are smart, they know that this won't work so long as the monuments are seen as expressing a religious message. Then again, if it's not a religious message, what's the point? Can they find a middle ground?

Marc R. Masferrer, editor of the Kufkin Daily News, argues that no such middle ground can possibly exist:

I agree with those who see Ten Commandments displays in courthouses or on the grounds of the Texas Capitol as an affront to the First Amendment, but that does not mean all religious expression on public property or even the mentioning of "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance or on our money threatens the republic.

No one argues that all religious expressions on public property "threatens the republic." No one, for example, argues that private individuals should be prohibited from religious expression while on public grounds. Alll that is objected to are government endorsements of religious messages something that includes mentioning "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and on our money. Manferrer very pointedly fails to explain how these religious expressions are OK while others are not. Other than this, though, he makes sense:

It is difficult to imagine how displays of the Ten Commandments in courthouses or other government buildings can be taken as anything other than a government endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint. ... Ironically, though, advocates of Ten Commandments displays are willing to downplay their religious significance of the precepts and instead argue their secular value as, what Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott called, a "recognized symbol of law."

So which is it, and why are supporters so willing to denigrate the Commandments' religious power to make their case? Justice Antonin Scalia wants to know. In response to Abbott, Scalia said, "You're watering it down to say the only message is a secular message. ... I can't agree with you. 'Our laws come from God.' If you don't believe it sends that message, you're kidding yourself."

The exact same watering-down occurs every time Christians attempt to smuggle religious messages into government business. If they admit that the message is religious, they admit that it can't be a part of official state action. In order to retain the message, then, they argue that it's "really" secular while in courts (even though they tell each other than the purpose is religious demonstrating a singular duplicity that contradicts all their arguments about how their religion is necessary for morality).

There's no middle ground because the government is trying to communicate either a religious or a secular message (how recipients interpret it is another matter). So long as the "defenders" of religion insist that the message is "really" secular, they will only be undermining their own religious commitments.

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