A New Way to Display the Ten Commandments in a Public School

The old Ten Commandments display in a Giles County school

The last time we talked about the Ten Commandments banner in Giles County schools, the district has suggested surrounding it with other “historical documents” and a judge had offered the district a compromise: Just cut the Ten Commandments down to six!

Where are we at now? There’s good news!

The Giles County School Board voted today to remove a copy of the Ten Commandments that has hung on a wall of Narrows High School during a year and a half of controversy and litigation.

… and then some strange news:

The board voted unanimously to replace the commandments with a copy of a page from a history textbook that mentions the Ten Commandments in conjunction with American government and morality. The commandments themselves do not appear on the page; they are represented by a drawing of two tablets.

In other words, if you won’t let us put up the actual Ten Commandments as part of a historical tradition… then we’ll find a textbook that only mentions the words “Ten Commandments”… and “Jesus”… and post that up instead! That’s what kids are inspired by! A page from a textbook!

First of all, what sort of Ten Commandments picture is that? I drew a better one on Draw Something:

Also, if the Ten Commandments display (surrounded by other historical documents) was the problem the judge was trying to get away from with his compromise offer, how is this display any better?

(In case you’re curious, it comes from a Prentice Hall U.S. History textbook (PDF))

No word yet on how the judge will react.

Rebecca Glenberg, an attorney for the ACLU, which is representing the student in the suit, said she can’t comment on how today’s decision might affect the lawsuit until she has a chance to discuss it with her client.

On the positive side, the proposed page-from-a-book display could piss off conservatives:

The move could prove controversial among Giles County residents who have shown up en masse at earlier meetings in support of the commandments display.

The whole thing is unnecessary. If there’s a historical basis for talking about Christianity, it can already be discussed in history class. Much like moments of silence are just workarounds to saying prayers in the classroom, this subtle Ten Commandments display is really an attempt to push Christianity into the public schools. Hopefully, the judge will recognize that and put a quick stop to it.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    There’s nothing remotely suggestive of democracy to be found anywhere in Judeo-Christian history. There’s nothing to be found in Judeo-Christian beliefs that leads to democracy. In fact, modern democracy stems largely from the thinking of men who were atheists, deists, and critics of Judeo-Christian culture.

    Had we not thrown off the influence of Judeo-Christian culture in our governments, we’d still have powerful (and sometimes brutal) kings controlling us- probably with the assistance of a theocratic aristocracy.

    What’s laughable is that, within the Abrahamic mythology, the commandments were given by fiat. There’s nothing about the people having any input on the matter. Some icon of democracy!

    • kagekiri

      Seriously.

      I could’ve sworn we had freedom of religion, which is obviously not an option considering the first 4 commandments. And we sure as hell don’t outlaw wanting things, jealousy, or dishonoring your parents, or committing adultery.So no killing, lying in testimony, or stealing….3 make it through, and they’re hardly unique to Christianity.Wow. You can totally tell that these *obviously* special rules were the foundation of the US ideals of democracy, rights of taxation and representation, and individual rights.

    • http://profiles.google.com/kelvins273 Kevin Smith

      Yep. Absolutely nothing in the Ten Commandments supports democracy. The first commandment is to defer absolutely to divine authority, so they support theocracy. As for the Judeo-Christian tradition, Jesus’ statement about rendering unto Caesar might be construed as advocacy for something like separation of church and state, but Jesus and his disciples seem to spend more time telling slaves to obey their masters and otherwise encouraging people to stay in their assigned place in a hierarchical social order.

  • Gunstargreen

    Dammit they went and switched the definitions of democracy and theocracy when I wasn’t looking!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MWL7JXLKOMXSN6DGOAVLNQOMMQ Andromeda

    Anyone else see all this as some immature, childish game?  I picture so-called adults and educators no less, giggling and crouching down behind a desk like five year olds. 

    • http://twitter.com/Unbeliever64 Unbeliever64

       Precisely!  The educators are sticking their tongues out and saying, “Nyaah!  We’re putting up the Ten Commandments ANYWAY!”

      …Except they AREN’T.  I don’t actually see a problem with the page they put up.  It merely mentions that values in the Bible “inspired American ideas” about morality…  The page actually gives more weight to the Enlightenment, than to religion!

      All told, I think the page is reasonable (unless the educators have another hissy fit and black out everything but the top-right corner… which wouldn’t surprise me…)

      • Reginald Selkirk

         I interpret their response as “See, we didn’t make this shit up; Prentice-Hall is touting the same brain-dead carp.”
        Note that the other influences actually list a little detail about how and what they influenced, but the blurb under the 10 commandments doesn’t.

  • BoGardiner

    I have occasion to frequently drive  in Giles County,  which is blanketed with election-style pro-commandment signs in yards and on businesses.  None opposing… ever.  It’s awkward when I have someone in the car; it’s so in your face that to not comment on it is obvious avoidance… but TO comment on it is to perhaps get myself in hot water, often not knowing for sure my companion’s views.  I can’t imagine if I were a resident or business owner there, the isolation I’d feel. SO tired of being in the closet…

  • Roxane

    Gotta love the little “Thinking Critically” box in the lower right corner.  Except, they left out some steps.

    • Annie

      Yes, but I was pleased that they made no mention of the 10 commandments in that section.

    • Ken

      I am also amused by the “thinking critically” encouragement here, and the idea that the 10 Commandments are presented in a Hebrew context, a concept which probably upsets Christians even more, if they think about it.  Wonder what upsets them more, being descended from monkeys or the fact that their entire belief system is descended from Jewish origins?

  • Pat

    FWIW, the new banner is not necessarily misleading in and of itself. Christianity arguably does influence peoples’ ideas about government and morality. the problem arises when it is coupled with theocratic ideology, giving the (obviously wrong) impression that christianity is the basis of our government.

    • Mark O’Leary

      The poster implies that Christianity influenced the formation of the American ideal of government–a demonstrably incorrect factual claim–not just “people’s ideas about government & morality.”

  • Edmond

    Isn’t saying that the Ten Commandments inspired American values and laws a little bit like saying that the stone tablets they were carved on inspired the internet?  Of COURSE there’s a direct developmental line that can be drawn from humanity’s earliest efforts at law making to our latest efforts.  But the two are so far removed from one another now that they’re virtually unrelated.  Our laws are simply NOT based on this largely-superstitious dogma, which only retains the barest minimum of laws that humans had ALREADY discovered were good for social living.

  • Tom

    Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but the impression I get from this is that they never even cared what the ten commandments actually said, and just treated them as some kind of talisman to be held up at every opportunity.  Why else would they feel an illegible symbol representing the ten commandments to be an acceptable substitute?

    • Mark O’Leary

      You are indeed reading too much into it. The image is a typical one used in lots of specifically Jewish graphical design. It is not “illegible” to those who know elementary Hebrew. It lists the first ten letters of the Hebrew alef-bet, which are numerically equivalent to the numerals 1 through ten. It would be impractical to actually list the Hebrew commandments in such a small space. This motif is found all over the Jewish world, including in synagogue architecture, where it is literally carved in stone. People conversant with the relevant symbology understand the intended meaning. 

      • Fsq

        You know how many people jn this cou try cabarely read English, let alne elementary Hebrew?

        This is a bit of a disingenuous argument. Especially since it is in an American Public School, not exactly a bastion of quality learning…..

  • Guest

    Why is there no reference to the Dutch Revolt. The Declaration of Independence is almost the same Act of Abjuration the Dutch Spain gave in 1581. 

  • Paul D.

    I like how their illustration of the tablet with the Ten Commandments is written using the square Aramaic script that didn’t exist in the time of Moses (who didn’t exist either, doh) but developed as the imperial script of the Achaemenid Empire centuries later.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cburschka Christoph Burschka

    Indeed, the commands “have no other god beside me”, “make no photographs”, “don’t work on weekends (and kill everyone who does)” positively drip with democracy. They inspired the US constitution about as much as they inspired the communist manifesto.

  • judith sanders

    Here’s a better illustration for the origins of American democracy:
     http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-_0xxBHcqe3o/TarlzDY-LLI/AAAAAAAAAE4/P0Xq_bYlQU0/s1600/Vikingraad.jpg

  • Fsq

    I have got to play devil’s advicate here….

    There have beeso many comments on ths blog and other secular/atheist blogs about how we could allow something that contained historic documents along with such [blathering nonsense] like the ten commandments.

    This may well be a dishonest way for the idiots to try and get their little rule book up on walls, but placed in this conext, however poorly executed, it seems hard to disagree with or fight.

    Perhaps this is a case of “pick your battles”?


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