Tuesday, May 16, 2017


For those of us whose politics are rooted in history and tradition, the American Civil Liberties Union is an organization which is often at odds with our beliefs and our considered opinions on public policy.
That said, I have to confess that I was pleasantly surprised to find that the ACLU web site carries a full discussion of a 1995 position paper endorsed by a number of religious organizations, entitled The Bible in Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide.
The gist of the paper is very simply that there is no constitutional ban on teaching the bible in public schools, so long as it is taught as an academic subject with no effort to persuade or evangelize the students.
In short, it is OK to ask the students to read the Ten Commandments, even to memorize them, as long as they are not required or expected to agree with their message.
Candidly, I find it difficult to imagine a value-neutral curriculum for an elementary or secondary school. The Northwest Ordinance, which expressed the aspirations of our Founding Fathers, put it this way: “Religion, Morality and Knowledge, being necessary for good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
The motto of Detroit Catholic Central High School, from which I graduated 70 years ago, affirmed that it taught us goodness, discipline and knowledge, a fairly straightforward approach to good government and the happiness of mankind.

Despite its approval of value neutral biblical education, the ACLU remains a vigorous opponent of the promulgation of the ten Commandments.

The United States Supreme Court seems to be conflicted on the subject. In 2005, the Court decided two cases involving public display of the Ten Commandments on the same day. In the Kentucky case of McCreary v ACLU, the Court held the display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of two Kentucky courthouses violated the Federal Constitution. 

In the Texas case of Van Orden v Perry, the Court decided that a large display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the State Capital did not violate the Constitution. 

Both cases were decided by a vote of 5 to 4. Justice Breyer was the swing vote. While there were a number of dissenting and concurring opinions in those cases, the most salient difference between them was the simple fact that the Texas monument was allowed to stand for more than forty years before being challenged, while the Kentucky litigation was started as soon as the monuments were erected.  

One must wonder what goes through the mind of Justice Breyer when he sees the Ten Commandments represented on the face of the Supreme Court Building, displayed verbatim on the doors to the Courtroom and etched again on the wall behind the Bench.

The principal argument against the public display of the Ten Commandments is that they represent the moral teaching of the Jewish and Christian faiths. It seems peculiar to me that a statement condemning homicide, for example, should not be publicly displayed or taught in school simply because it was reputed to have been first articulated to Moses on tablets of stone.  

The curious thing about banning value laden teaching of the Ten Commandments in public schools is the fact that we expect our public schools to inculcate "good citizenship" in our children.

I have to ask myself whether the ACLU would disapprove of teaching the values of the Ten Commandments in a manner that would disguise the origin of their promulgation.

With apologies to Moses and his ghost writer, the Old Judge offers there ten "suggestions" to be added to elementary school

1.  Whatever power is responsible for the origin of the human species is entitled to the respect and gratitude of all people.
2.  The name of the originator of humanity should be used respectfully.
3.  There should be one day each week for people to gratefully celebrate the existence of intelligent life on Planet Earth.
4.  People should be good to their parents.
5.  Killing other people is a bad thing to do.
6.  Copulating with someone else’s spouse is undesirable conduct.
7.  Stealing things from other people is bad.
8.  People should not tell lies.
9.  Day dreaming about making love to someone else’s spouse is not a good thing to do.
10.  Being jealous of what other people have is not a good idea.


  1. These sound like ten amendments to the Ten Commandments.
    Works for me!
    Good job, Sir!

  2. Judge, how do the 10 "rules to live by" change if there is no higher power in the universe? Why does there have to be an originator of what we know of the universe? It seems like your first 2 rules can be eliminated. As to your third rule.....sometimes I really wonder if the human species and the concept of "intelligent life" are compatible. The remaining 7 are generally good rules to live by, but as with every rule there are exceptions to the rule.
    I think that belief in a supreme being can be of great comfort to many people, but that doesn't mean that one exists.