The Ten Commandments In Schools

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1 1 of 6 9/23/ :21 PM Issue Date: March 15, 2002 The Ten Commandments In Schools The Stone Precedent The Ten Commandments Defense Act Post the Commandments, For Morality's Sake Posting the Commandments Is Unconstitutional An Uncertain Future for the Commandments in Schools Bibliography Additional Sources Contact Information Key Words and Points The separation of church and state is a cornerstone of the U.S. constitutional system. To the framers of the Constitution, it was important enough to be placed first among the liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are known. But in the 200-plus years since the Constitution was ratified, the question of exactly where the line between church and state lies has never been fully answered. Public schools have been the venue for many battles between those who want a bigger role for religion in society and those who want a more secular society. Issues such as prayer in schools and whether to teach evolution or display religious symbols on government property have all fed the ongoing debate concerning the line between church and state. Posting the Ten Commandments in schools is another of those divisive issues. [See 1995 School Prayer] The Ten Commandments, as written in the Bible, form the moral underpinning of the Judeo-Christian tradition. But, as with other issues that call into question the line between church and state, the desire by some to post the Ten Commandments in schools has sparked a controversy. The movement to have the Ten Commandments posted in schools took off after two teenagers killed 12 students, one teacher and themselves at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. in April Parents, educators and politicians agreed that something had to be done to prevent future tragedies like the Columbine shootings. Some proposed stiffer gun control laws. Others wanted anger management and peer mediation classes taught in schools. Still others said that the only way to ensure that another Columbine never happened was to place greater emphasis on morals among school-aged children. And the best way to do that, they said, was to post the Ten Commandments in schools. [See 2000 Update: Gun Control] AP/WideWorld The Ten Commandments Monument outside the Elkhart, Ind., City Hall. The monument, which has stood in the same place since 1958, is now the subject of a pending appeal in front of the United States Supreme Court. Those who favor posting the Ten Commandments say that what is most sorely missing from schools today is morality. The Ten Commandments, they say, teach children morality and rules to live by. Therefore, posting the commandments, and exposing children to the tenets they espouse, will help combat the general decline in morality, supporters contend. Having the Ten Commandments around in a school is also educational, proponents say, because they are an important part of history. Along with documents like the Bill of Rights and Magna Carta, the foundation for the British constitutional system which outlined the basic rights of British subjects, the Ten Commandments have played a significant role in the formation and development of the government of the U.S., supporters say. For those who do not support posting the Ten Commandments in schools, the very idea is anathema. They say that the Ten Commandments are religious in nature, not historical, and that posting them would violate the Constitution's ban on state-sponsored religion. Opponents of the posting effort also point out that the Ten Commandments apply only to Christians and Jews. Those of other faiths, or of no faith, would be forced to adhere to a set of tenets that may contradict their own beliefs, critics argue. Are the Ten Commandments a good source of morality that should be posted in every school? Or would posting them be unconstitutional because they are religious in nature? The Stone Precedent

2 2 of 6 9/23/ :21 PM The court case that is most important when considering the constitutionality of posting the Ten Commandments in schools is Stone v. Graham. It was decided, 5-4, by the Supreme Court in November 1980, and set the precedent by which all cases involving the Ten Commandments in public schools have since been judged. Stone dealt with a 1978 Kentucky statute that required that a 16-inch by 20-inch copy of the Ten Commandments be posted in each public school classroom in the state. Private funds were used to purchase the copies of the Ten Commandments. When the Kentucky legislature passed the law requiring the Commandments be posted, it required that each copy carry a notation, in small print, at the bottom reading: "The secular application of the Ten Commandments is clearly seen in its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law of the United States." But that disclaimer was not enough to convince the Supreme Court that the posting was allowable under the First Amendment prohibition against the state sponsoring of religion. The court held that although the statute calls the plan a "secular application of the Ten Commandments," the commandments are, in fact, religious in nature. Therefore, the court ruled, the law is unconstitutional. "The pre-eminent purpose of posting the Ten Commandments, which do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters, is plainly religious in nature, and the posting serves no constitutional educational function," the court said. The fact that the postings were paid for by private contributions, the court continued, also did not make the law constitutional because the law requiring them is unconstitutional. "That the posted copies are financed by voluntary private contributions is immaterial, for the mere posting under the auspices of the legislature provides official support of the government that the Establishment Clause prohibits," the court ruled. The Establishment Clause is the part of the First Amendment that prohibits the government from establishing or supporting religion. Similarly, the fact that the Commandments were posted and not read did not matter, the court said, because any government sponsorship of religion, no matter how small, is unacceptable. "It is not significant that the Ten Commandments are merely posted rather than read aloud, for it is no defense to urge that the religious practices may be relatively minor encroachments on the First Amendment," the court ruled. In order to formulate a test for future instances like the Kentucky statute, the court decided to apply the "Lemon Test," so named because it grew out of a 1971 Supreme Court ruling in Lemon v. Kurtzman. The Lemon decision held that a law violated the Establishment Clause if its primary goal was the advancement of religion. The three-part test is used to determine whether a state law is permissible under the First Amendment. First, the law "must have a secular legislative purpose," meaning that its intent cannot be to promote religion. Second, the statute's main focus cannot be one that advances or inhibits religion. Finally, the law cannot promote "an excessive government entanglement with religion." If a law violates any of the three parts of the test, the court ruled in Lemon, it is in violation of the Establishment Clause and must be struck down. In its decision in Stone, the court determined that the Kentucky statute ran afoul of the first part of the Lemon Test. "We conclude that Kentucky's statute requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school rooms has no secular legislative purpose, and is therefore unconstitutional," the majority wrote. The court did acknowledge that children might benefit from being exposed to the Ten Commandments. However, it said that posting the commandments would still be unconstitutional: If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the school children to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible objective under the Establishment Clause. Justice William Rehnquist, now the chief justice of the Supreme Court, wrote a dissenting opinion in the Stone case. In that opinion, he wrote that while the Ten Commandments have a religious origin, they have played an important role in shaping the government of the U.S. and should be appreciated for that fact, independent of their religious origins. The Ten Commandments, Rehnquist wrote, "have had a significant impact on the development of secular legal codes of the Western World." Rehnquist also asserted that the separation of church and state enshrined in the Constitution does not mean that nothing religious can enter the public arena. "The Establishment Clause does not require that the public sector be insulated from all things which may have a religious significance or origin," he wrote. Indeed, to do so would deprive students of a major part of their history and culture, he argued. The Ten Commandments Defense Act In June 1998, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R, Ala.) introduced the Ten Commandments Defense Act in the House. Aderholt argued on constitutional grounds that the power to decide if public schools can post the Ten Commandments should rest with the states, not with the federal government. Aderholt based the argument on the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which says that all powers not granted to the Congress by the Constitution rest with the individual states. For those who worried that granting too much power to the federal government was a mistake, the 10th Amendment was an important statement asserting the rights of states. The Ten Commandments Defense Act also said that expressions of religious faith on government property are protected by the First

3 3 of 6 9/23/ :21 PM Amendment. Furthermore, the bill asserted that the right to religious expression was protected by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. That clause says that states may not "deprive any person of life, liberty or property without the due process of law." Finally, the bill directed courts to "exercise judicial power in a manner consistent" with the text of the bill. That means that courts would have to disregard the Supreme Court's ruling in Stone and allow each state to decide for itself if posting the Ten Commandments was something that was acceptable. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which then referred it to its subcommittee on the Constitution. The bill died there. Although never passed, the bill managed to stir controversy while in committee. Among those who opposed the Ten Commandments Defense Act was the group American Atheists. Ron Barrier, a spokesman for the group, said the bill was unconstitutional and dangerous. "Congress cannot simply 'declare' that the states have the right to put religious sloganson public property. The Constitution explicitly forbids this," Barrier said. "Only by way of black magic have our elected officials interpreted the First Amendment as vesting power in Congress to pass laws regarding religion." If not for the shooting spree of two students at Columbine High School less than a year after the Ten Commandments Defense Act died in committee, analysts say, it may never have been resurrected. But following that shooting, a public outcry spurred some members of Congress to revive the bill and attempt to attach it as an amendment to a juvenile crime bill that was debated in the summer of Upon introducing the proposed amendment to the House, Aderholt said that the Columbine incident pointed to the need for the morality taught by the Ten Commandments: The recent shootings in Littleton, Colorado provide an unfortunate picture of the terror infested in our schools today; children killing children in the halls of our schools, children who do not understand the basic principles of humankind But not everyone in the House agreed that posting the Ten Commandments was an appropriate measure. Rep. Robert Scott (D, Va.) focused on what he called the "tradition of religious diversity" that defines the U.S. in voicing his opposition to the amendment. Rather than trying to honor and promote that tradition of religious diversitythis amendment seeks to elevate one particular religion over all others. That singling out of one religion is contrary to the American ideal of religious tolerance and is blatantly unconstitutional. The amendment was eventually dropped from the bill. Since the summer of 1999, the Ten Commandments Defense Act has not resurfaced. Post the Commandments, For Morality's Sake For those who support posting the Ten Commandments in schools the issue is simple. Morals are declining and the Ten Commandments teach morals. Therefore, they contend, posting the Ten Commandments in schools will boost the moral character of America's schoolchildren. The result, they say, will be less violence and a higher general level of morality in the U.S. "Byposting the Ten Commandments, we help kids be better citizens and we make school a safer place," says Colorado state Sen. John Andrews (R). Posting the Ten Commandments in schools will provide a constant reminder of what is right and how people should treat one another, supporters say. The Ten Commandments offer simple rules of morality that are applicable to everyone, they continue. "Do some truly believe that teaching our children that lying, stealing and killing [are wrong] is wrong?" asks Rep. Robin Hayes (R, N.C.). Supporters also say that the Ten Commandments are an integral part of the history of the U.S. To deny that fact is to deny history, they contend. "The Ten Commandments represent the very cornerstone of Western civilization and the basis of our legal system here in America," says Anderholt. As such, to display the Ten Commandments alongside other historical documents, such as the Magna Carta, should not present a problem, supporters say. "I see it as a historical document," says Bill Musselman, superintendent of the Harlan County, Ky. school system. There are also some who contend that removing religion from the public schoolroom was a mistake to begin with. The U.S. is a nation founded by Christians and based on Christian ideals, so having the Ten Commandments posted in schools is not a conflict of interest, they say. "When schools scowl at religion by excluding it from official acknowledgment, they also frown on morality," says Dennis Teti, associate professor of government at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. The idea that religion should remain in the classroom is not new. In a concurring opinion in a Supreme Court case decided in 1948 called McCollum v. Board of Education, Justice Robert Jackson wrote that while it is important to maintain the integrity of the First Amendment, perhaps religion should not be completely removed from public schools. The case on which the court was ruling involved religious instruction during the school day in a public school. Jackson wrote: The fact is that, for good or ill, nearly everything in our culture worth transmitting...is saturated with religious influences... One can hardly respect the system of education that would leave the student wholly ignorant of the currents of religious thought that move the world society for a part in which he is being prepared. Not allowing religion to enter public schools has also made it more difficult for teachers to reach out to troubled students, some analysts

4 4 of 6 9/23/ :21 PM say, because such help could be couched in religious terms. Beth Nimmo's daughter, Rachel Scott, was one of the students killed at Columbine High School. Nimmo says that religion may be just what is needed to stop the spread of teen violence. And removing religion from the possible remedies available to teachers, Nimmo says, has turned out to be a mistake: I think for so long our teachers and administrators and educators have almost had a gag law saying that they cannot even express or convey any kind of religious beliefs in any way to the students. And I think that has been real damaging because they can't reach out to a student that they see every day sit in their class that would be hurting or be disturbed. Supporters of posting the Ten Commandments also see the issue as one of states' rights. The Supreme Court, in its Stone v. Graham ruling, decided the issue for the nation as a whole. Many people would rather see the authority to decide issues like posting the Ten Commandments in public classrooms vested with individual states. Posting the Commandments Is Unconstitutional Opponents of posting the Ten Commandments in schools say that to do so would be a clear violation of the Constitution's prohibition against state-sponsored religion. The first words of the first amendment in the Bill of Rights prohibit the government from establishing an official religion. Critics point out that the first four Commandments deal expressly with God, not with morality. Therefore, they say, posting the Ten Commandments in schools would violate the Establishment Clause because the Ten Commandments are religious in nature. By posting them, opponents argue, the government would be supporting religion. Worse, they say, it would mean supporting a particular religious strain--the Judeo-Christian one. The Ten Commandments, critics say, may apply to Jews and Christians, but bear no relation to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other religion. So, by implication, the government would be sanctioning some religions over others, they argue. The First Amendment, they point out, expressly forbids doing so. "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," the amendment reads. Even if the act of posting the Ten Commandments did not endorse a specific religion, critics say, it would be endorsing monotheism, or the belief in one god. That would violate people's right to believe in any, or no, religion. "It's not true that the Ten Commandments are just good rules to live by," says Jeremiah Rose, of the socialist newspaper The Militant. "They are ancient statutes codifying compulsory monotheism. Posting them in public schools is a violation of the fundamental right ofpeople to freely decide their religious views." Another problem with posting the Ten Commandments, critics say, is that there are several versions of the commandments in use among Jews and the different Christian denominations. There are differences in the order in which the Commandments are arranged and also in the text of the Commandments themselves. [See 2002 Which Ten Commandments Would Be Posted? (sidebar)] In order to post the Ten Commandments, the government would have to pick one version. Critics wonder which set of Commandments would be used and who would make that decision. "Whose Commandments? Which version? The Roman Catholic version? The Protestant version, or the Jewish version?" wondered Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D, N.Y.) during a House hearing on the Ten Commandments Defense Act. "The Hebrew words are the same, but the translations are very different, reflecting different religious traditions and different religious beliefs." And by choosing one set of Commandments over another, critics say, many will feel slighted by such a decision. "There is no single version of the Ten Commandments, and any posting would necessarily constitute a kind of religious favoritism," says David Bernstein, Washington, D.C.-area director of the American Jewish Committee. Critics say that the Ten Commandments are also inadequate for dealing with the complexities of modern life. While supporters say that they teach morals, opponents contend that the commandments, taken alone, are simple statements that offer no framework for living a moral life. Without careful study, some critics say, the commandments are simply a list of rules. "Most of the Ten Commandments are terse and stated without explanation. Therefore, they must be carefully considered and interpreted," writes Joan Van Becelaere, in the online Connections Journal. For example, one of the Ten Commandments instructs children to "honor your father and mother." But if a parent is abusive or hurtful toward their child, opponents ask, should the child still honor them? Critics say that the answer to that is unclear because there is no context or explanation for that, or any, commandment. "Does this apply even when the father abuses his children or batters his wife? It's not clear," says Lewis Vaughn, editor of Free Inquiry, a secular humanist publication. Given how vague they are, critics argue, the Ten Commandments send a simplistic message to children about morality. Real life is complicated, they say, and real-life problems require people to develop problem-solving skills. The Ten Commandments, they say, cannot teach that. "I want my teenage children to understand that there's more to being moral than trying to adhere to simplistic rules. Life is more complicated than that and so is morality," says Vaughn. "I want them to do the right thing because they have empathy and understanding of what's at stake--not because dogma compels them."

5 5 of 6 9/23/ :21 PM For years, parents and teachers have been proclaiming the dangers of peer pressure, usually in relation to drug use. But critics of posting the Ten Commandments say that the same type of peer pressure would be at work if the Commandments were to be posted. Children who do not come from a religious background, or who come from a different religious background than most of their peers, will feel pressured to believe in the Ten Commandments, critics say. Currently, children are not restricted from praying in school--many schools even offer before- and after-school prayer groups. And those who do not want to pray are similarly able to exercise their right not to. But if the Ten Commandments were to be posted in schools, critics say they fear that the choice of whether to pray would be taken away. As David Silverman, the New Jersey state director of American Atheists, says, "The only purpose of posting a religious messageis to pressure those who don't wish to pray to do so." And that, critics say, goes against the Constitution. An Uncertain Future for the Commandments in Schools Although the Constitution makes it clear that the government may not establish a religion, the document is not clear as to exactly what constitutes "establishment." For some, posting the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms falls within the realm of acceptable behavior. They say that posting the Commandments is necessary because of the moral decline of the U.S. But for others, posting the Ten Commandments in public classrooms is clearly a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Allowing that to happen, they say, would erase the line that is supposed to separate church from state. There have been several efforts around the country to post the Ten Commandments in schools, but most have met with defeat. In the summer of 2001, the North Carolina state legislature approved a bill that allows local school districts to post the Ten Commandments. Critics say that the measure runs counter to the 1980 Supreme Court decision prohibiting the display of the Commandments. But supporters say that the bill allows any historical document to be displayed, including the Ten Commandments, so long as the postings do not promote one religion over another. The Ten Commandments measure was part of a larger education bill that included a character-education curriculum stressing courage, kindness and other traits. Analysts say that lawsuits will likely be filed challenging the law. A similar measure did not fare as well in Virginia. A bill that would have allowed public schools to post the Ten Commandments was killed by the State Education and Health Committee before it ever reached the full legislature for a vote. Some of those who voted against it said they worried that it was too similar to the Kentucky statute ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Thus far, the Supreme Court's ruling that posting the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms is unconstitutional has stood up. But analysts say that if today's court chose to hear a case similar to Stone v. Graham the outcome might be different because the court is much more conservative today than it was in Bibliography Brown, Angela. "Crossing the Line? Schools, Governments Accused of Blurring Church, State Issues." Houston Chronicle (October 7, 2001): 42. Gehring, John. "Displays Entangle Ten Commandments, First Amendment." Education Week (December 8, 1999): 7. Glanton, Dahleen. "Ten Commandments Become Weapon in Church-State Battle." Houston Chronicle (December 16, 2001): 12. Kubilius, Kaitlin. "On 'Hanging Ten': The Commandments and the Schools." Free Inquiry (Fall 2001): 46. Manzo, Kathleen. "Debating the Decalogue." Education Week (August 8, 2001): 28. Rabinove, Samuel. "The 10 Commandments and Public Schools: Shall We Post the Penalties Too?" Church & State (November 2000): 21. Rose, Jeremiah. "The 10 Commandments Shouldn't Be Posted in Schools." Militant (January 10, 2000). Teti, Dennis. "Ending School Violence." National Review Online (March 15, 2001). Vaughn, Lewis. "Protect My Children from the Ten Commandments." Free Inquiry (Fall 1999): 22. Additional Sources Additional information about posting the Ten Commandments in schools can be found in the following sources: Segers, Mary. A Wall of Separation? Debating the Public Role of Religion. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Strehle, Stephen. The Separation of Church and State: Has America Lost Its Moral Compass? Lafayette, La.: Huntington House Publishers, 2000.

6 6 of 6 9/23/ :21 PM Contact Information Information on how to contact organizations that are either mentioned in the discussion of the Ten Commandments in schools or can provide additional information on the subject is listed below: Americans United for Separation of Church and State 518 C Street N.E. Washington, D.C Telephone: (202) Internet: Liberty Counsel PO Box Orlando, Fla Telephone: (407) Internet: American Jewish Committee 165 East 56th Street New York, N.Y Telephone: (212) Internet: Key Words and Points For further information about the ongoing debate over the Ten Commandments in schools, search for the following words and terms in electronic databases and other publications: Lemon v. Kurtzman Rep. Robert Aderholt Stone v. Graham Columbine High School Ten Commandments Defense Act 2010 Facts On File News Services Modern Language Association (MLA) Citation: "The Ten Commandments In Schools." Issues & Controversies On File: n. pag. Issues & Controversies. Facts On File News Services, 15 Mar Web. 24 Sept < For further information see Citing Sources in MLA Style. Facts On File News Services' automatically generated MLA citations have been updated according to the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition. American Psychological Association (APA) Citation format: The title of the article. (Year, Month Day). Issues & Controversies On File. Retrieved Month Day, Year, from Issues & Controversies database. See the American Psychological Association (APA) Style Citations for more information on citing in APA style.

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