Ten Commandments in Texas public schools?

Texas State House representative Phil Stephenson has introduced a resolution calling on all public schools to display the Ten Commandments. … Continued

Texas State House representative Phil Stephenson has introduced a resolution calling on all public schools to display the Ten Commandments. His resolution also calls for “support(ing) prayers, including the use of the word ‘God’ at public gatherings.

As one who is often concerned about hyper-secularism being employed in the name of defending both freedom of, and freedom from, faith, I have a measure of sympathy for Mr. Stephenson. Too often, especially in our public institutions, we confuse with freedom of religion, including the sacred right to practice no religion at all, with freedom from the presence of religion altogether.

While the Constitution assures us of a wall of separation between church and state, a wall which must be carefully guarded, it also bears remembering that a wall without windows and doors is more akin to a prison than to anything else. That said, Representative Stephenson’s initiative is fundamentally misguided, and even irresponsible, and needs to be understood accordingly.

For starters, the resolution, as introduced by Stephenson, can be construed as little more than a provocative publicity stunt – one that mirrors the larger sickness infecting so much of our current politics, in which elected officials waste time grandstanding in the name of rigid ideologies instead of doing the necessary work of responding the real issues immediately before them.

As presented, the resolution advocates for issues that have already been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. As recently as 2005, the court ruled that displays such as those which Mr. Stephenson would introduce into Texas schools and other public institutions, violate the Constitution. Whatever one thinks about this issue, Mr. Stephenson’s way of addressing it is, at best, a waste of time and, at worst, a cynical attempt to replace the real work of governance with diatribe and fear.

This resolution also repeats a common and potentially dangerous approach to defending the legitimate role religion and religious symbols can have in public life. The resolution confuses the right of majority views to be represented with the right of majorities to strip away the equally legitimate rights of minorities. It is the problem so brilliantly identified centuries ago by Tocqueville, as “tyranny of the majority.”

While it is certainly true that neither people of faith, nor their faith itself, need be driven into the dark corners of society in order to protect freedom of conscience for all people, it is also true, that when it comes to that freedom, we do not practice a numbers game. As stated by Sandra Day O’connor in a 2005 Supreme Court decision, “It is true that many Americans find the Commandments in accord with their personal beliefs, but we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment.”

Finally, the resolution confused the importance of acknowledging both the role of faith in our nation’s history, and its ongoing significance to most Americans, with advocacy for specific religious traditions. For example, what version of the Ten Commandments would be placed in Texas schools? Would it include the commandment “Thou shall not kill, as typically rendered by Christian versions of the words found in both Exodus and Deuteronomy? Or, would it render the words “Thou shall not murder,” as the word appears in the Hebrew Bible’s earlier formulation?

That is simply one example of a potential problem, and one that could probably be worked out. Of course, the real problem is that too many people confuse good and authentic faith with the faith which they happen to practice.

While it may be true that we need to find more and better ways to honor the fact that we live in a nation composed overwhelmingly of believers, this resolution is not the way. In fact, its introduction raises the legitimate concerns that actually retard the advance of our national conversation about faith in the public square.

So unfortunately, we can now thank one more public official for setting back the very cause they claim to champion – a problem occurring with increasing frequency across the current political landscape on a whole variety of issues.

About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

Read More Articles

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

shutterstock_186090179
How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

pews
Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

shutterstock_186566975
Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

2337221655_c1671d2e5e_b
Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

bible
Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

csl_wall_paper
What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.

Antonio_Molinari_David_y_Abigail
How to Resolve Conflict: A Bible Lesson for Foreign Policy Leaders

The biblical story of Abigail shows how visible vulnerability can create a path toward peace.