"Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness": "Sham" Secular Purposes in Ten Commandments Displays

Article excerpt

  I. REMEMBER THY HISTORY, HOLY OR NOT
 II. HONOR SUPREME COURT PRECEDENT, THAT THY
     DISPLAY'S DAYS MAY BE LONG UPON GOVERNMENT
     PROPERTY
III. THOU SHALT NOT PROFFER SHAM PURPOSES
     A. From Whence Cometh Secular Purpose?
     B. Whither Goeth Secular Purpose?
        1. Stone v. Graham
        2. Parsing the Sham Purpose from the Sincere One
 IV. THOU SHALT NOT CIRCUMVENT THE COURT
     A. Older Displays and Legal Necromancy
     B. "If at first you don't succeed....":
        Modified Displays
  V. THOU SHALT HANG EIGHTEEN, NOT TEN

The Ten Commandments

1 And God spake all these words, saying,

2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

6 And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9 Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work:

10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

11 for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

12 Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's. (1)

Last fall, the nation watched as Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court proudly erected a two-and-a-half-ton granite monument right in the center of the rotunda of the state's courthouse. The monument was engraved with the Ten Commandments and other references to God from documents and people important to American history. (2) Courts quickly found the display unconstitutional, (3) amidst much public outcry from Moore's supporters. (4) Moore was removed from the bench by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary for violating canons of judicial ethics. (5)

While the courts were absolutely right to find the monument unconstitutional under current Supreme Court precedent, the incident highlights the importance of religious symbols to many American citizens. (6) Around the country, courts have faced constitutional challenges to the display of religious symbols on government property. (7)

Under the United States Constitution, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." (8) Thomas Jefferson once used the metaphor of a "wall of separation between church and State" to describe the First Amendment. (9) Justice Hugo Black, a strong supporter of a strict separation of church and State, accorded that resonant metaphor an almost liturgical quality and added a chorus: "The wall must be kept high and impregnable." (10) Although scholars and judges have questioned whether this metaphor accurately portrays the legal effect of the Establishment Clause, (11) polls show that Americans generally agree with this portrayal of the church-state relationship. …