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Thou Shalt Not

When I was at the National Archives, we were unwillingly drawn into the controversy regarding the public display of the Ten Commandments.

In the early 2000’s as several related court cases made their way to the Supreme Court, I fielded countless press inquiries about a small bronze medallion embedded into the floor of our building in Washington DC. It had quietly sat unnoticed since our rotunda opened in 1935. But now, this representation of two famous tablets engraved with ten roman numerals became the star of the show.

To refresh your memories, the Court decided in 2005 in two very close votes that it is the context in which these famous laws are displayed that determine the constitutionality. If they are displayed to promote religion, that is a violation of the establishment clause, but if they are merely a generic representation of antient law, that is fine. Sadly, the damage had been done.

Conservative fundamentalist organizations had used the issue to begin the division of America. If you were fighting to display the Commandments in schools, courts, and state capitol buildings, you were on the side of God. If you were against the display, you were doing the work of the Devil.

I lamented that history as I read Exodus 20:1-17 for the third Sunday in Lent. God’s ten commandments is not a pronouncement of archaic concepts, but things we learned in kindergarten and would unlock world peace if we put our complicated explanations of issues and self-interest aside and just followed the rules.

Don’t lie, cheat, or steal. Put God first in your life. Honor the people who raised you, imperfect as they are/were. Realize envy is a waste of time and energy. Make the Sabbath the first day of the week again, and use it differently, whatever that best means to you.

Oh, and love your neighbor and pray that, in spite of yourself, they love you back (New Testament). 


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