Magazine article The Nation

House of the Lord

Magazine article The Nation

House of the Lord

Article excerpt

Many people were thrilled when the House of Representatives finally got down to business March 5 and voted, 295-125, to endorse the Ten Commandments and to support their public "display in government offices and courthouses." But I'm a bit nervous that, in passing Concurrent Resolution 31, the House may be tying its hands on other important matters.

For example, will the Republican majority in Congress be able to impose the death penalty for new federal offenses when all House Republicans but four have already endorsed the Sixth Commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Kill"? The members on record who have stated that "the Ten Commandments are a declaration of fundamental principles that are the cornerstones of a fair and just society" may have inadvertently painted themselves into a corner.

Of course, the Sixth Commandment could be amended to read: "Thou shalt not kill, except if thou art the United States Congress or a state." But strict constructionists are going to have a real problem with that one, and the next thing you know someone will try to amend the Ninth Commandment ("Thou shalt not bear false witness") to exempt Speakers of the House and members who sign bouncy checks.

I'm also afraid that what looks like a courageous vote now could come back to haunt the House when it takes up the urgently important Flag Amendment, a proposal to amend the Constitution so that "Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." Now, desecration means "to strip something of its sacredness." Unfortunately, flag worship collides directly with the First and Second Commandments, which forbid idol worship and graven images.

Because the Republican leadership was understandably eager to get this resolution to the floor, members were forced to vote on all ten commandments as a package instead of getting the chance to vote up or down on each one. …

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