Don’t Hang the Ten Commandments in the County Jail When Eight of Them Are Perfectly Legal

In 2010, Robert Arnold was elected Sheriff of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. And he’s finally figured out how to lower crime rates, help prisoners, and get re-elected all at the same time: By posting a copy of the Ten Commandments in the lobby of the Rutherford County Jail:

Sheriff Robert Arnold next to the framed Ten Commandments (Scott Broden – Gannett Tennessee)

Arnold in 2012 accepted a framed copy showing the Ten Commandments, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights from June Griffin, a Rhea County activist.

“Those are documents this country was founded on,” Arnold said during an interview at his office. “Those are documents that all laws are derived from in this country.”

“The job is to enforce the laws of the land, and those are three documents of laws of the land,” said Arnold. “Those are the founding three documents of the laws of this country.”

Riiiiight. I remember learning in U.S. History class about all those times Congress added Amendments to the Declaration of Independence… and we all know how strong the country’s laws are against worshipping other gods, praying to false idols, taking the Lord’s name in vain, working on the Sabbath, disrespecting your parents, cheating on your partner, lying, and coveting.

So 80% of the Ten Commandments aren’t even dealbreakers when it comes to our law.

Does Arnold even know what the Ten Commandments are?! Apparently not.

He also doesn’t know that the local county courthouse was banned from putting up a Ten Commandments plaque there (even in the midst of other historical documents):

“That was before me,” Arnold said. “I really don’t know all the details about that.”

Then do some research!

Steve Cates, who sued the courthouse over the commandments, and who happens to be a Christian, doesn’t get why he has to keep fighting these battles over and over:

“I just don’t understand it,” said Cates, a retired Riverdale High School government and economics teacher who is active with the Rutherford County Democratic Party. “If I want to honor the Ten Commandments other than the way I live in my life, I can post them on my house if I own the property. I can post them in my yard.

“I can put them on my car. I can put them on my T-shirt. If I own a business, I can post them in my business. I just don’t see the extreme push to take one religion above others and promote it through government. I don’t understand it.”

There’s nothing to understand. Arnold just thinks the county jail is an extension of his church. Maybe he needs a lawsuit to do the right thing since the laws aren’t a strong enough deterrent for him. (I’ve alerted FFRF.)

Arnold would be better off looking for a job as a preacher since that’s what he obviously wants to be doing.

(Thanks to Brian for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i really need to bring a lawsuit in favor Inanna. Destroyer of Ebi! Goddess of the Me! bow down, and sacrifice a bird to her, now.

    where are my rights?

  • LesterBallard

    The ignorance is staggering.

  • discobisc

    Former British colonies’ laws are derived from Roman law. They had a whole different set of gods, who didn’t really interfere in lawmaking anyway.

  • Daniel In The Lions’ Den

    “doesn’t get why he has to keep fighting these battles over and over” – That’s because whenever we plug a leak in the levee, it springs another leak. As a number of historic people have said,

    ““eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,”

    “http://www.monticello.org/site/blog-and-community/posts/eternal-vigilance

  • Kat

    Can I just say how much I love the fact that a Christian is actually the one saying this:
    “I just don’t see the extreme push to take one religion above others and promote it through government. I don’t understand it.”
    It’s like he has enough confidence in his own beliefs to not feel the need to shove them down everyone else’s throats, and enough empathy to understand that other people might not like that. Well done.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      But he is a Democrat and well all know Democrats are not real Christians. I think I owe Hemant a dollar now for using the term real Christian.

  • Dave Jones

    The culture industry – the ideology of death

    ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-961596

  • Dave Jones

    The culture industry – the ideology of death

    ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-961596

    ……

  • deltaexmachina

    The Culture Industry – The Ideology of Death

    ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-961596

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

      In the event of you being Dennis Markuze, I remind you again of the terms of your parole and that you are violating them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chengis-Khan/100003317165064 Chengis Khan

    Am I alone in thinking this article is being very decent towards that uniformed ignorant man? If people think that the laws of the land are based on their religious text, then it is equal true that people of other faiths and nones are not covered by the law(s).

  • http://www.facebook.com/roger.bauman Roger Bauman

    This fellow doesn’t know that this is unlawful, and he doesn’t know that out laws are not derived from the decalogue. That doesn’t bode well for a lawman.

  • Robyman4

    How often is Robert Arnold required to publicly demonstrate his cerebral acuity in order to maintain his position as a sheriff? Now THAT’S a law (i.e., commandment/order) worthy of promulgation!

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ Daniel Wall

    I am continually amazed at the utter thoughtlessness of those who continually maintain that the Ten Commandments are laws the nation was founded on.

  • Rain

    “That was before me,” Arnold said. “I really don’t know all the details about that.”

    Presumably he isn’t bucking for detective. That or he couldn’t care less about the “details”. I don’t want to say he is lying though.

  • Rain

    I just don’t see the extreme push to take one religion above others and promote it through government. I don’t understand it.”

    Hubris, glorifying one’s own beliefs, reinforcing the hegemony, demagoguery, you name it.

  • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

    My guess is that this moron thinks that there is absolute historical evidence for everything “Jayzus” related and that “Tha Baahbel” is a historical document. It simply amazes me at how these people live in a completely secluded bubble of utter ignorance.

  • Tom

    Had a town marshal in our town that put the Jesus fish on the back of the town’s marked police car.

    • http://twitter.com/AgendaWakeUp Ms Jordan

      Put some legs on that fish. Evolution is not overrated. :)

  • SeekerLancer

    If our laws were base on the ten commandments we would be living in an oppressive theocracy. We really need to do more to start crushing that foolish meme that pops up way too often in defense of public displays.

  • YaronD

    Well, to be nitpickly technical, while it’s true that US laws are not in any way based on those ten commandments, the sentiments and ideas behind some of those commandments you explicitly listed are also expressed by some laws, so strictly speaking are really not “perfectly legal”.

    There’s no explicit law against working on the Sabbath, but there are laws about work time that do specify a weekly rest day and list increased compensation if there is a need to work in them. That’s generally the weekend, which usually does cover the Sabbath day.

    There’s no law explicitly forbidding you to cheat on your partner, but marriage/divorce law does treat this as a justified ground for divorce, and people cheating on their partners will usually be punished for it when it comes to the terms of the divorce and the division of property.

    Laying isn’t unlawful in general, but is unlawful in many specific variations such as when lying in contracts, false advertising, giving false testimony in court, lies by con-artists, and so on.

    Coveting other people’s property also isn’t against the law by itself, but when combined with theft/stealing, the coveting is what marks the crime as planned/pre-meditated/conspiracy, and so knowledge of coveting in those cases is considered by the law when judging the level of the crime and when assigning the punishment.

    Heck, you can even stretch the respecting your parents bit to say it means respecting people who are important, and since now we think everyone is important then the same sentiment is partially what is behind libel laws.

    • Gus Snarp

      There is no federal law mandating a rest day or any extra pay for working a seven day week. There may be such a law in some state, but I’m unaware of any. Certainly there’s no such law in any of the states where I’ve worked.

      Right, but lying in general is not illegal, which is the point.

      If you’re going to extend coveting to the point of stealing, then we’ve already covered it. It does not mark the crime as planned/premeditate/conspiracy – evidence of planning, premeditation, or conspiracy is what does that, which are no coveting. I covet the Tesla Model S. If I saw one on the street tomorrow, unlocked and with the key in it and stole it, the fact that I’ve coveted one for a while now would not change the nature of my crime.

      And that bit about respecting your parents – congratulations, you’ve now twisted logic beyond the pretzel attained by Christian apologists and Deepak Chopra.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        I’m pretty sure there are “Sunday Opening” laws at county levels. Not required day of rest, but days in which certain businesses are restricted in some way.

        I thought ‘coveting’ was encouraged, or are we advocating communism?

        • Anonamous

          I think capitalism eroded all the “blue laws”. but you can goggle that for research

          • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

            Perhaps Sunday opening, but alcohol related regulations are still pretty haphazard in some areas of the country.

      • YaronD

        “There is no federal law mandating a rest day or any extra pay for working a seven day week.”

        I checked, and you’re right. I’m not a US citizen myself, and such laws exist both in my country and a few others I know of, so it seemed natural to me it will be pretty universal. Wrong assumption.
        When I checked it now it seems that there are a couple of US states that do have such requirements, but it’s indeed not federal, and it’s a minority.
        They (Saturday+Sunday, or the last two days of whatever the workweek is) are acknowledged in some places, but without any explicit requirement for compensation, so I gather it’s just a reference for in case there’s some local agreement or custom.

        “Right, but lying in general is not illegal, which is the point.”

        No, not really. We’re (well, at least explicitly me in the comment to which you replied) not talking here about a 1-to-1 identity and codification (heck, the commandments are not the basis for the laws, so the chance of them being codified in it verbatim is slim to none), but about there being some cases of similarity with the spirit of existing laws to the spirit of some of the commandments. Because I wasn’t responding to deny in any way that they’re not the basis for the law, but to say that it’s not strictly true that the mentioned commandments are things which are “perfectly legal”.

        And in that regard, there are types of lies where it’s legal to lie, but there are types of lies which are not legal. So it’s not true it’s “perfectly legal” to lie for all cases of lies.

        And, mind you, the original Hebrew for this commandment is not a direct “Thou shalt not lie”. The original is about “bearing false witness” lying on testimony. Which is actually illegal even in the US.

        “It does not mark the crime as planned/premeditate/conspiracy – evidence of planning, premeditation, or conspiracy is what does that, which are no coveting.”

        Well, if you don’t covet something then you will never plan to steal it. The problem with coveting is not just what goes on inside your head (which is indeed perfectly legal), but that coveting something can push you toward trying to obtain it in illegal ways.

        And it’s not the “if we don’t want anything we don’t have then we won’t push ourselves to do better”, because the commandment doesn’t talk about wanting things you don’t already have, it’s against wanting things which belong to someone else. Not a “don’t want to also have something like this”, but a “don’t want the same one that already belongs to to someone else”.

        If at the trial about the theft of your neighbour’s donkey it turns out that for months and years everyone hear you talk about how you really wanted to get that donkey, it will go worse for you than if you had a reason for a spur-of-the-moment crime. Because that coveting is a clear indication of pre-meditation.

        Again, I remind you, my point wasn’t that the commandment got codified to law, just that it’s not “perfectly legal” in the meaning that the sentiment beind it can carry legal ramifications.

        Which even fit with this commandment following the previous ones, because it can directly cause them. Coveting your neighbour’s wife can cause adultery/fornication. Coveting his field/hourse/horse/donkey/other-possessions can cause theft, murder, and false testimony. Cause them by making you do them, which is, again, that premeditation thing.

        : “I covet the Tesla Model S. If I saw one on the street tomorrow, unlocked and with the key in it and stole it, the fact that I’ve coveted one for a while now would not change the nature of my crime.”

        Again, the commandment isn’t again coveting a Tesla Model S in general. It’s against coveting the specific Tesla Model S that belongs to your neighbour across the street. Which really can change the nature of your crime if it’s known that you had your eyes on it for a while before you finally stole it.

        “And that bit about respecting your parents – congratulations, you’ve now twisted logic beyond the pretzel attained by Christian apologists and Deepak Chopra.”

        Yes, I know. I figured after the reasonable connections I might as well stretch a bit. Well, more than a bit.
        Especially considering the explicitly stated purpose of respecting them – in order to increase your lifespan and (in the second copy of the commandments) improve the quality of your life. Maybe it’s less of a source for a law and more a recommendation not to piss off people that have the power to make your life miserable or end them. Which can make sense.
        Oh, well, since we’re in the conortion section anyway, that one also has some relation to law, though not explicit. Those who have such power over you, in a general public term, are the rich and powerful. Those who can make your life short and misrable are also generally those who can bring a whoel army of lawyers against them if you go to court, which will probably make the final legal result worse, in practice though not in intent.

  • Tainda

    Every time someone says “Those are the documents this country was founded on”, or something similar, a little voice inside my head screams “NO THEY AREN’T!!!” and I die a little inside.

  • Gus Snarp

    In this case this is a symptom of a problem with Sheriffs in general. The election of Sheriffs should be eliminated. The top law enforcement officer should be a hired professional, not an elected politician who needs to curry votes.

  • J.R. Robbins

    I can’t even think right now! F#@K! I’ll resort to schoolyard ranting. “This guy’s a big, fat douche!”

  • Carpinions

    I missed the part where the Decalogue covered aspects of the 2nd Amendment, unreasonable searches and seizures, black people are 3/5s of a person, etc.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I’ve alerted FFRF.

    Have you also alerted AU? Considering the complainant is a Christian, this might be more an AU worthy case than FFRF, although they indeed often work together.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.grimm.14 Paul Grimm

    Actually killing is allowed in this country as well

    • JohnnyRelentless

      The commandment is not against killing, it’s against murder, which is illegal. But since murder is against the law in virtually every society that ever existed, regardless of whether or not Christianity was even known, it would seem that the commandments are not the source of that law at all, but simple human decency and common sense are.

      • C Samples

        Not true, the pigmies used to eat there own who couldn’t get with the program.

        • JohnnyRelentless

          Eating their own for ‘not getting with the program’ wasn’t murder than, if it was within their laws. Murder is only murder when it is illegal. I bet you couldn’t just eat anyone you wanted to without consequences.

  • JV

    the ignorant will always push their ideals on others…thats the foundations of christianity

  • http://www.facebook.com/carol.lynn.710 Carol Lynn

    Oh, nonsense! I was once *assured* by someone with a PhD – in some Christian topic like “Youth Fellowship” from some poor excuse for a university – that the whole reason why we have jury trials at all is because the totally lawless Olde English people read the Bible once the missionaries came and took the way the Sanhedrin ran as their model for how to do justice and law. He TOLD me that *all* the laws of the USA are founded on the Bible! That must be true, then. /snark

  • Jan Kafka

    As a nearly lifelong atheist, I have no problem with the Ten Commandments being posted as ubiquitously and prominently as is possible. Whether on private or public property…A constant reminder to Christians of what they are supposed believe might lead to a reduction of criminal and anti-social acts committed by said group.

    • JohnnyRelentless

      Except that they never have in the past, so why would they now? Besides, the 10 commandments are just a constant reminder that god didn’t think rape was even worth mentioning.


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