Debate:Should public displays of the 10 Commandments be allowed under the constitution?

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"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." - United States Constitution

"... or abridging the freedom of speech ..." Nuff said. Qwestor 10:10, 02 January 2008 (EST)

Amendments can be amended. The fact that we can all legally enjoy a beer is proof (except for you college freshmen and sophomores in New York State)

Spoken like a true person-who-has-recently-attained-the-age-of-majority! Me, I can legally consume a beer. But enjoy? After years of bracing myself, swallowing the stuff, trying hard not to wince, and learning to say "Ahhh! That hit the spot" as if I meant it, I finally concluded that I don't actually like the taste of spoiled yeast dying in its own waste products. (Now, milk overgrown with lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria? Mmmm, good. A burned slab of mangled muscle tissue from an immature castrated cow? Yes, and give me fries with that.) Dpbsmith 21:36, 24 March 2007 (EDT)
Yikes! I just found out that Andrew Schlafly's mother's nephew—would that be a second cousin?—Tom Schlafly, runs Schlafly Beer, a craft brewery in St. Louis, that even brews beer made from sorghum. I guess I'd better stop making negative comments about beer, huh? Dpbsmith 21:50, 24 March 2007 (EDT)
Well actually the example here is misleading. Prohibition wasn't amended, it was repealed. Amendments aren't amended, the constitution is. The bill of rights is not going to change. It is the moral fabric of our constitution. Separation of church and state was made as a result of the religious persecution of christian sects in England. There is no need for a secular government to display any religious paraphernalia of any kind.
By the way, by "public" I assume this article means government buildings and property as "public", and not public demonstrations by private citizens.
Furthermore, the role of the 10 commandments for christians is clear: Jesus fulfilled the law. He also gave us the sum-total of the commandments, love your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. The whole idea of erecting stone monuments of a book is a bit cultish anyway, bordering on a violation of the commandment prohibiting engraven images. Teji 00:37, 5 April 2007 (EDT)

Separation of church and state is not in the constitution; it perfectly constitutional to allow a public display of the ten commandments. In fact, if one takes the constitution at its word rather than twisting it (probably by calling it an "evolving document"), it is UNconstitutional for congress to prohibit any public display of religion. --BenjaminS 21:19, 16 January 2007 (EST)

Nobody is suggesting that displays of the 10 Commandments by private individuals should not be allowed. The issue is whether any branch of the Government should allow the public display of religious documents for the express purpose of encouraging their acceptance. Specifically, allowing a judge to display the protestant version of the 10 commandments (there are differences between different Christian sects) and to imply he is using them to superceede the actual laws of the country.

Surely it depends on the context: what message the people who placed the display meant to send, what message is perceived by those who view it.
Do you think it would be constitutionally protected free speech for a judge to have a huge swastika in his courtroom, with the explanation that it is a Hindu religious symbol? Dpbsmith 19:19, 17 January 2007 (EST)
Can I just add that the swastika is actually a mirror-image of the Hindu symbol, not the actual symbol, and so are different. (Although because of the swastika, most people are likely to think the Hindu symbol is the swastika, or the swastika drawn wrongly.) Just saying - JamesCA 00:25, 23 August 2011 (EDT)
This is silly because you are conflating the judge in his roles as a private citizen and public servant. In a courtroom, which is a public building, there is separation of church and state, no religious paraphernalia allowed. But in his private life, he can practice any religion he wants.

Reply: Despite your straw man, I will answer that, yes, it would be protected. Perhaps the judge who has the swastika should never have been approved as judge, or perhaps there may even be good grounds to impeach him, yet his swastika should not be removed under the excuse that it is religious symbol; that would be unconstitutional. Fortunately I think that there is little chance of this ever being a problem.

Well, I think that the legal situation here, and I'm certainly not a lawyer, let alone a constitutional scholar, must surely depend on what is in the judge's heart. If the judge is, in his heart, a Hindu, and has put the swastika up for the purpose of expressing his Hinduism, then it is sending a religious message. But what if the judge is not really a Hindu at all, but is actually a Nazi, and has put it up to send a political message and is just pretending that it is a religious message? Is it the same situation?
Although I used the phrase "free speech" and you might be right: it might be protected regardless of whether it is "really" a Hindu or Nazi symbol, and in both cases the speech might be protected, but that would not necessarily make the judge immune from consequences. Dpbsmith 05:59, 18 January 2007 (EST)
Guys, the question is a trick. The judge does not have control over his courtroom above the constitution. Suppose he also wanted to put a French flag in the courtroom, can he do that? Of course not. The courtroom is not his private property; he is a public servant working in a public building under the regulation of a government that is separate from the church.

What message do you think that the ten commandments send, and what message would be perceived by the viewers?

--BenjaminS 20:36, 17 January 2007 (EST)

It depends. In the case of the monuments funded by Cecil B. DeMille, for example, it was at least partially a commercial message.
Even in the case of something like the Ten Commandments, which are part of the religious heritage of the vast majority of American citizens, there are opportunities for sectarian friction, since Protestants, Catholics, and Jews number the commandments differently. Incredible as it may seem, this was a real issue when the Eagles began placing these monuments in the 1950s. "It wasn’t until after a few of the monoliths were placed that some criticism surfaced because of the different versions of the Ten Commandments and their numbering. Changes were made after the first series of distributions regarding the numbering and the wording of the Ten Commandments based on the Interdenominational Public School Format of 1958. Some aeries still chose to keep the numbering system even after the change was offered."[1] Dpbsmith 21:38, 17 January 2007 (EST)

  • Comment Some resources for exploring this question include:
    • Foundation for Moral Law, Judge Roy Moore's organization and website, "Defending our Inalienable Right to Publicly Acknowledge God."
    • Court decision removing Moore from office (which states "Indeed, we recognize that the acknowledgment of God is very much a vital part of the public and private fabric of our country")
    • The real history of the Ten Commandments project Website about the partnership between Cecil B. DeMille and the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which placed many Ten Commandments monuments in public places
    • ACLU's website explaining their viewpoint on Ten Commandments cases: "A Christian cross that is fully visible from a public sidewalk is constitutionally protected when placed in front of a church. But if that same cross were moved across the street and placed in front of city hall, it would violate the Constitution." Dpbsmith 16:42, 18 January 2007 (EST)
  • The ACLU is clearly wrong on this one. The first Amendment to the Constitution states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" regulation of the display of the 10 commandments is unconstitutional because it is a prohibition of the free exercise of religion. --TimSvendsen 18:28, 18 January 2007 (EST)
    • Perhaps the ACLU is wrong, but I doubt that they are "clearly" wrong. If the issue were clear, it would not be controversial. Since the ACLU has won some of these cases, some judges must have thought some cases of this kind were not "clear." Dpbsmith 07:32, 21 January 2007 (EST)

Reply: I don't quite agree with your argument. The ACLU has an agenga; they are trying to remove religious symbols from public display. Despite the fact that allowing a public display of the 10 commandments is clearly protected by the constitution, the ACLU still fights it because it is against their agenda. This is why (I believe at any rate) that people call the constitution an "evolving document" and why the 1st ammendment is re-interpreted "eperation of church and state"; The only hope for the ACLU is to reduce clarity.

Tim, I'm a bit confused by your logic. You state that "regulation of the display of the 10 commandments is unconstitutional because it is a prohibition of the free exercise of religion." This isn't an issue of congress passing a law prohibiting the display but an issue of whether government officials can have such displays and if so under what circumstances. It isn't at all clear to me what that has to do with congress passing regulations. JoshuaZ 15:03, 7 February 2007 (EST)
The only way to prohibit displays of the 10 commandments would be for congress to make a law against them. This is prohibited by the free exercise clause: "Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the free exercise [Of Religion.]" The only reason ever given for prohibiting government officials from having displays of the 10 commandments is that it violates the establishment clause of the first ammendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." There is nothing in the establishment clause that prohibits officials from having displays. People say that there is a "Separation of Church and State," in the first ammendment, but that is not true. The establishment clause was put in to prevent the government from establishing a state religion. (like the Church of England) --TimSvendsen 15:28, 7 February 2007 (EST)

REPLY: We need to be clear, that although the Constitution does not use the PHRASE "Separation of Church and State," it may contain the IDEA. The writings of Thomas Jefferson (Letter to the Danbury Baptists) and of James Madison, in particular, indicate that a separation of Church and State is EXACTLY what was intended by the 1st Amendment.

People also say there's "separation of powers" and "checks and balances" in the Constitution, but gosh darn it, I can't seem to find those words anywhere! Does that mean that those, too, are invalid? A public display of the 10 Commandments, on public/government property, is a violation of the 1st Amendment in that it implies that one religion (in this case any one of a number of Christian denominations) is endorsed and valued more highly than any other by government. Government should remain neutral to religion, and the 10 Commandments are certainly not a religiously neutral document.
Ok, so let me see if I understand your argument. You are dismissing out of hand the actual logic used in all cases by the courts where they have struck down such displays and therefore think that the only relevant case is if congress prohibited it? Am I following you correctly? JoshuaZ 15:47, 7 February 2007 (EST)
Reply I am saying that the "Separation of Church and State" is not Found in the Constitution, therefore 10 commandments displays cannot be banned based on it, and any court ruling contrary to that is not following the constitution. And the only way to properly ban it (that I can think of)would be an act of congress, and that is prohibited by the free exercise clause. --TimSvendsen 16:58, 7 February 2007 (EST)
Point- since the entire argument revolves around whether or not there is an establishment clause problem, it might be best to focus on that issue. Also note that one doesn't need a "Separation of Church and State" to consider the placement of a 10 commandments to be an establishment of religion (note that not even everyone agrees how to split them up. As far as I can tell there are three major divisions, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish (although some Protestants use the Jewish division, and some Protestants(Anglicans?) use the Catholic division). JoshuaZ 17:37, 7 February 2007 (EST)

The Establishment clause is very clear, and it does not prohibit government officials free exercise of religion. The division of the commandments is irrelevant to this debate. --TimSvendsen 19:26, 7 February 2007 (EST)

You're right, it doesn't prohibit government officials the free exercise of their religion. It does, however, prohibit governmental endorsement of any religion, which would be implicit in the placement of such a monument on public/government property.
It's not quite irrelevant, because it means that even though the Ten Commandments are common to Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, any particular public display of them in which they are numbered one through ten is identifiable as being the Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish "version." How many people are aware of this, or how important it is, I don't really know. But I'll bet a nickel that Judge Roy Moore is aware of this, and that his monument uses the Protestant numbering. (I haven't checked yet...) Dpbsmith 21:40, 7 February 2007 (EST)
I finally found a largish image of Moore's monument[2]... and, not to my surprise, see that he uses the Protestant numbering. (Unless you count "I am the Lord thy God in which case he has eleven commandments...) Dpbsmith 19:16, 19 February 2007 (EST)
But really, the interesting question is: why are people making such a fuss about this? I have the feeling that neither side is being candid about their motivation.
If Judge Roy Moore (or anyone else) wants to acknowledge God, he can do so with his actions and with the conduct of his life... I don't know why he needs a ton of stone to do it. If I felt that the only message people intended to send by a display of the Ten Commandments was that they personally oppose murder, adultery, profane language, and Sunday shopping, I don't think I would see any harm in it.
On the other hand, I don't really think I really equate a public display of the Ten Commandments, with a legal requirement that, as a condition of employment, every government official and university professor must subscribe to the XXXIX Articles of the Church of England. Dpbsmith 21:49, 7 February 2007 (EST)

Freedom of religion

PhistI have no problem with someone putting up a massive banner with the 10 Commandments on it all over their house or workplace, but you have to be prepared for your next door neighbor putting up an equally massive banner with satanic slogans on it. The USA does not have a state religion, and as such if you allow public displays of one religion's tenants you must extend that to all religions. So if you're prepared to see Islamic, Buddist, Hindu, CoS(Church of Satan), Athiest, Shamanistic and Nihilistic banners too, go ahead and put up those commandments.

The moral values of Western culture aren't based of Satanic, Animist, and Shamanistic ideals. They are based directly off of what is described on the Ten Commandments. It's not a religious point; It's a historical one, because the entire justice system is based off of it. --Hojimachong 23:59, 10 March 2007 (EST)
Unfortunately, we're still not allowed to make laws outlawing religious displays just because they're for a false religion. For soem fool reason, the Founding Fathers didn't make Christianity the State Religion of the US, so if the courts allow the 10 Commandments, they HAVE to allow everyone to put up their 'holy' laws as well. Do you want YOUR kids reading quotes from the Satanic Bible in school? --Fullmetajacket 00:49, 11 March 2007 (EST)
That might have something to do with the fact that there was not then and is not now any one religion called 'Christianity'. Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, Lutherans all come readily to mind. So also do the Quakers, the Puritans. Today the number of different branches of Christianity is even greater. Which one should be the official religion of America and why? Niwrad 02:29, 17 March 2007 (EDT)
I think you missed the point of my statement; the Ten Commandments could easily be considered as historical artifacts, because of the significant impact that they have had on American society as a whole for over 2,000 years. I doubt that The Satanic Bible, The Qu'ran, etc. have had anywhere near the cultural and political impact of the Ten Commandments. --Hojimachong 00:53, 11 March 2007 (EST)
The second largest religion in the world is Islam. It seems that the Koran has had somewhere near the cultural and political impact of the Ten Commandments - especially given that the Ten Commandments had a couple thousand years' head start to make its impact. --FPiaco 16:20, 12 March 2007 (EDT)
Western culture; The Qu'ran didn't have the impact on Western culture like the Bible did. --Hojimachongtalk 14:32, 16 March 2007 (EDT)
By your reasoning then Hojimachong the public schools could teach history OF the Bible. I don't think that's likely to happen. --Crackertalk 14:37, 16 March 2007 (EDT)
Public schools can and do teach the history of the Bible, in history class. The curriculum I am familiar with (Washington State) has a 2-week high school freshman course on the history of Biblical times, Jesus's life, etc. As a historical, literary object, the Bible is extremely important. Just like the ten Commandments have significant historical impact. --Hojimachongtalk 14:54, 16 March 2007 (EDT)


Absolutely not. It's a clear breach of the 1st Amendment.

HUH? im from washington state...i dont remember that course at all.... I do vaugly remember that there was one paragrah on Jesus in our history books but it didnt call him messiah. which town are you from? --Wally 13:49, 28 June 2007 (EDT)

Shouldn't the title be...

  • Are public displays of the Ten Commandments allowed under the constitution?


  • Does the Constitution ever prohibit public displays of the Ten Commandments?

As it reads now, it seems to be asserting that the Constitution does not allow public displays of the Ten Commandments, and the debate is whether or not it should (presumably by amendment). Dpbsmith 12:26, 17 March 2007 (EDT)

Don't the first and second commandments contradict the American constitution? Nematocyte 13:03, 23 March 2007 (EDT)
I agree that the title is misleading. The word "public" is the problem. As worded, it seems to ask if a display "visible to the public" should be allowed (which, of course, it is!). The question I believe it means to ask is whether the 10C's can be displayed on public property - which they can be, and are - when they are presented in historical context (cf. the frieze on the Supreme Court). It is when they are presented in the context of the processes of government, especially presented alone, that the issue gets contentious. So the lesson I see here for people posting debate topics is to be very careful about wording so the question is clear and unambiguous. Which can sometimes be very challenging! Human 16:56, 9 April 2007 (EDT)

Well its clear that some people dont want ANY displays of the 10 commandments, what it comes down to is if a teacher puts up the 10 commandments on a wall in thier classroom is that an "establishment" of Christianity of is it "free exercise thereof". Now if the Teacher wanted to wear a T-shirt that had the 10 commandments to me thats "free exercise thereof" and there is nothing the gov't can do..however if she were to post it on the wall of a gov't building it might be construed as "establishing" Christianity as far as the gov't is concerned and probably shouldnt be allowed. One might note though other relgions namely islams 5 laws? may be posted on gov't property under the lame excuse of "historical reference". --Wally 13:59, 28 June 2007 (EDT)

It's dependant on whether the school is public, or private. If it was a public school, then you would encounter the same problem as putting them on the wall of a government building (which it is). However if it was a private school, then the teacher could do all the stuff said above (at least as far as the law is concerned). - JamesCA 01:13, 23 August 2011 (EDT)

The Constitution DOES allow the public display of the 10 Commandments

For 200 years the Constitution allowed the display of the 10 Commandments on public property. The Supreme Court building itself has a representation of the 10 Commandments engraved on it. The Constitution has not changed since that time. What has changed is the interpretation of the Constitution by unelected federal judges and justices.

The Constitution still allows display of the 10 Commandments. Sadly the interpretation of the Constitution currently enforced by our government does not allow their display.

The courts won't allow the 10 Commandments, but they will allow a crucifix in a bowl of urine. They will protect anti-religious "art" in the name of freedom of speech. If the First Amendment did not mention religion, then freedom of speech would allow display of the 10 Commandments. The religion clauses of the First Amendment were intended to allow even more freedom for religious expression, but courts have interpreted them to provide less protection for religious symbols than for ordinary speech. The courts have twisted the religion clauses to protect people from religion, rather than to protect religion from government.

The Constitution should be interpreted - as it long was - as allowing religious expression in the public arena and preventing the government from interfering with religion. Sbowers3 09:37, 29 September 2007 (EDT)

One thing that just really bugs me though: If people are so keep on displaying these 10 commandments, it should also be allowed to disply the punishements for "breaking" these commandments:

1st. Commandment, Exodus 20:3 “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. Old Testament punishment - Deuteronomy 17:1-5 “And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heavens, which I have not commanded. Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing and shalt stone them with stones, till they die”. Deuteronomy 13:6-10, “If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is of thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. Thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God." Exodus 22:20 “He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed”. New Testament punishment - Mark 16:16 “He that believeth not, shall be damned”.

2nd. Commandment, Exodus 20:4 “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water below.” Old Testament punishment- Deuteronomy 27: 1 5 “Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image.”

3rd. Commandment, Exodus 20:7 “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain”. Old Testament punishment - Leviticus 24:16 “And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death”, New Testament punishment - Matthew 12:32 “Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come”. Mark 3:29 - “He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgivness, but is in danger of eternal damnation”.

4th. Commandment, Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”. Old Testament punishment - Exodus 31:15 “Whosoever shall work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death”. Numbers 15:32. “And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day…And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.” 5th. Commandment, Exodus 20:12 “Honour thy father and thy mother”. Old Testament punishment - Exodus 21:15-17 “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death”. More punishment - Exodus 21:17 “And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death”.

6th. Commandment, Exodus 20:13 “Thou shalt not kill”. Strangely enough this is a commandment despite all the punishments that require death in the New Testament and the Old Testament. How can thou not kill when thou is commanded to kill at the same time?

7th. Commandment, Exodus 20:14 “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. Old Testament punishment - Leviticus 20:10 “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death”.

I havent looked up the last three yet, but I think its pretty obvious that it is a waste of time and money to allow the 10 commandments to be displayed, since no one will step up and uphold the "punishments" for breaking those "laws"..

Other than that, if this were allowed, other religions might have a go at it too..

—The preceding unsigned comment was added by Xchokeholdx (talk)

The ten commandments were given as a standard by which to live. This standard is applicable to everybody, for all time. The punishments you list were specific to the particular culture to which they were given. In other words, they are no longer applicable. Sorry you wasted so much time on that. Philip J. Rayment 07:28, 2 January 2008 (EST)

In what ways are the commandments that call specifically for a exclusive focus on god and his sabbath irrelevant "standards" to expect everybody to live by? The concept itself is a violation of the principle that we have an inclusive system, which errodes the often lauded terminology included in the clause celebrated by theistic, constitutional revisionists. If such an issue is to be made out of the prohibition of the free exercise thereof, then how do we interpret the context in which a list of "rules" to live by can be publicly displayed when some of those "rules" call for unilateral Christianity? -JBall

A Better Question Would Be...

"Should such displays be funded with taxpayer dollars?"

Really, I don't think it's possible to debate the original question: manifestly, such displays are allowed. I don't even think the question of whether "the government" should be allowed to do so is one for serious debate.

The question, it seems to me, should be whether or not such displays can be funded by state and federal taxes. THERE, I think, we get into questions of Constitutionality, as it inevitably leads to a situation where some taxpayers are being required to pay for speech they don't support. (And, yes, I realize that there are many issues of taxpayer dollars being misspent in this fashion; I personally believe that all of them are un-Constitutional.)

I believe that such displays on public property, if funded by private contributions specifically for that purpose, pass the muster of Constitutionality and should be permitted.

BenP 16:05, 2 May 2008 (EST)

I Believe in the direction BenP is going...but I personally don't think it should even be allowed on public property; private is most certainly allowed. Reason being this: while BenP understands that "some taxpayers are being required to pay for speech they don't support" you also have to remember that the public property has to be maintained with taxpayers money as well. And it is public property, not christian property. I certainly wouldn't want my walk in the park infested with billboards of multitudes of faiths vying for my attention.

Can someone clarify for me, public property and government property are exactly the same, right? If not, what's the difference? - JamesCA 01:16, 23 August 2011 (EDT)