President Ronald Reagan said, “I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress.” Unfortunately, we now know what would have happened if Moses had run them by a federal judge in Virginia — they would have been whittled down to the “Six Commandments.”
At issue is a Giles County high school display of important historical documents, including the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. The ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the inclusion of the Ten Commandments in the display. Judge Michael Urbanski, a Virginia federal district court judge, suggested they may be permissibly displayed if edited to omit commandments that reference God.
They are called the “Ten Commandments” for precisely the reason that there are ten directives, and they must be taken as a whole to remain in accordance with their original purpose and intent. Eliminating four would be like removing the preamble from the Declaration of Independence or the final paragraph from the Constitution because of references to God. The deletion of one word from any of these texts would distort the true nature of the documents and alter their intent.
Even worse, the suggestion demonstrates a dangerous trend in American society. There is a methodical campaign to remove faith not only from today’s public square, but from our memory of public squares past. I worry that efforts to indiscriminately erase symbols of faith from society will cause us to forget who we are as a nation. Take these examples.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation is demanding that a cross atop a memorial to veterans of World Wars I and II in Woonsocket, Rhode Island be removed from a fire department parking lot. The monument stood without controversy for over 90 years as a landmark honoring local men who never returned from war.
That same group is also demanding the removal of a memorial statue of Jesus erected on a Montana mountainside more than 50 years ago by Catholic soldiers returning from World War II. They built it in memory of the statues they saw throughout Europe to “perpetually remind themselves and others what it was that sustained them through the horrors of war.”
The American Atheists have filed a lawsuit to block the display of the Ground Zero Cross at the very site where it was discovered. This is not a cross created by a religious organization and placed at Ground Zero as a religious monument. It is a 20-foot steel cross beam that plummeted into the atrium of 6 World Trade Center on September 11th. Miraculously, it stood intact in the rubble in the form of a Latin cross. In the days, weeks and even years following the terrorist attacks, that cross offered comfort to families of victims and weary first responders. To remove the cross, a physical part of the history of that tragic day, would be an insult to the many who found solace in its presence.
Each of these monuments represents a piece of American history, whether it is the Ten Commandments that laid our law’s foundation, a memorial erected in memory of fallen countrymen or a spontaneous display of comfort and hope at our nation’s darkest hour. Faith is a part of our history, just as the freedom to live faith openly must be a part of our future.
A few years ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the right of American school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the words “under God.” Borrowing from the argument presented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the court said that the words “under God” are a bountiful statement of American history and philosophy, and so they can and should be a part of our nation’s pledge.
As the Becket Fund stated in its brief to the court, “It is uncontestable that since even before the Declaration of Independence, it has been an important part of our national ethos that we have inalienable rights that the State cannot take away, because the source of those inalienable rights is an authority higher than the State.”
Many of America’s Founding Fathers were resolute in their faith, and such is evident in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and numerous other historical documents. However, the religious underpinnings of our nation also formed the bedrock principle on which our nation was founded — that our rights are given by God and for that very reason, government cannot take them away.
Eliminating faith from today’s public square puts that core American principle in jeopardy. Eliminating all traces of faith from our history makes the destruction of that principle all but inevitable. The judge’s proposal to re-write the Ten Commandments should make us think twice about how far the envelope has already been pushed.
Rep. Randy Forbes, a Republican, represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District.