A judge in a Virginia lawsuit over posting the Ten Commandments in a public school has proposed cutting out the first few that are about God and allowing the rest of them to be displayed. (The so-called “First Table” is about love of God; the “Second Table” is about love of neighbor.)
Could the Ten Commandments be reduced to six, a federal judge asked Monday.
Would that neutralize the religious overtones of a commandments display that has the Giles County School Board in legal hot water?
That unorthodox suggestion was made by Judge Michael Urbanski during oral arguments over whether the display amounts to a governmental endorsement of religion, as alleged in a lawsuit filed by a student at Narrows High School.
After raising many pointed questions about whether the commandments pass legal muster, the judge referred the case to mediation – with a suggestion:
Remove the first four commandments, which are clearly religious in nature, and leave the remaining six, which make more secular commands, such as do not kill or steal.
Ever since the lawsuit was filed in September amid heated community reaction, school officials have said the display is not religious because it also includes historical documents such as the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
“If indeed this issue is not about God, why wouldn’t it make sense for Giles County to say, ‘Let’s go back and just post the bottom six?’” Urbanski asked during a motions hearing in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.
“But if it’s really about God, then they wouldn’t be willing to do that.”
(The discussion uses Protestant numbering, rather than the Catholic and Lutheran numbering, which considers “no other gods” and “no graven images” to be part of the same commandment, counting two commandments against coveting, one about property and the other about relationships. By that reckoning, the First Table contains three commandments and the Second Table seven.)
If we are to post the Commandments in the public square, would this be a solution? Would it be better than nothing? Or would nothing be better?