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ISSUE 117 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/21/2003

Four ironies of the big Ten

By Jonathan Graef
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 21, 2003

The separation of church and state has always been a controversial topic among Americans. Last summer, there was a huge debate regarding now-suspended Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore’s refusal to remove the display of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building.

Now the controversy regarding the Ten Commandments is a local one, because the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union (MCLU) mailed letters to the Duluth City Hall requesting that it remove its display of the Commandments from the front lawn.

The MCLU argues that the display violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Those who want the display to remain argue that the Commandments are the basis for rule and law in Western Civilization. The Rev. Dale Nau, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Duluth, said in a recent article in the Duluth News Tribune, “The framers of the Constitution didn't want to remove all traces of religion from the public arena. They just didn't want to exclude any religions."

There are a number of glorious ironies in this situation I would like to touch on.

The first irony: both sides use the same reason (intent of the founding fathers, or framers, or as I like to refer to them, Ben Franklin and the Furious Framers) to come to the most completely and utterly opposite conclusions in the history of the conclusions.

The second irony: Nau’s quotation about Ben Franklin and the Furious Framers (BF&FF) not wanting to exclude any religions ignores that placing the Ten Commandments would exclude Buddhists, Hindus, Deists, Muslims, atheists or any other non-Judeo/Christian who contributes to American society.

The third irony: I apologize if this seems crass, but it would be really hard to see “Thou Shalt Not Kill” on display and not have the temptation to write “Spanish Inquisition much?” on a piece of paper, taping it with an arrow pointed at the Sixth Commandment.

The fourth irony: a recipient of the Lutheran Leadership Scholarship writing an opinions piece that is skeptical of putting the Ten Commandments on public display. In fact, one could say that I am downright hypocritical for having this position. My rebuttal is that, despite what you may have read in the previous paragraph, I think that religion plays a positive role in society. Many of the most kind, intelligent people I have met, people that I will most likely be friends with for quite a long time, are those I met through my church at home.

I also, however, have friends who are atheist, agnostic, and deist. They are not immoral because they do not believe in an organized religion. Rather, they are among the most moral people I know, and religion did not necessarily play a role in developing their morality.

I think that humans have a natural tendency to sense injustice. Religion can certainly help point this tendency out, but it is not the only thing that does. Also, who cares where one gets their sense of what is right or wrong? You could have gotten your sense of what is right from a box of Animal Crackers, but as long as you treat people equally and are a law-abiding citizen, there should be no problem.

To conclude, I return to Ben Franklin and the Furious Framers. Religious freedom is certainly a principle of BF&FF, but publicly posting the Ten Commandments inadvertently excludes people of differing faiths. Those who argue for the Ten Commandments display say that they have a right to express their faith publicly. To them, I say you absolutely do … in church and in conversation. It is not, however, the role of the government to decide what religion its people should follow. Displaying the Ten Commandments in public would do just that.

Staff Writer Jonathan Graef is a junior from Glenview, Ill. He majors in English.

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