The “Ten Commandments” are taken from the Bible. They have to be taken from it, because the Bible doesn’t simply provide them for us as such. Neither Exodus 20 nor Deuteronomy 5 calls them the “Ten Commandments,” and neither one describes them as a numbered list. That numbering is something we do, not something the Bible does.
And we’ve come up with a whole bunch of different ways to number them. There’s a Talmudic way, an Orthodox way, a Catholic way, a Lutheran way, a Reformed/Anglican way — even a Samaritan way, although that one’s not widely used much these days.
What this means is that any numbering of the Ten Commandments must be explicitly sectarian. Every representation of the commandments that lists them in ten divisions, even without numbers attached, constitutes a sectarian preference. One specific sect is being commended and elevated, all others are being rejected. Necessarily and unavoidably.
There can be no such thing as a “Ten Commandments monument” that does not do this. It can be a Lutheran monument — one that explicitly prefers Lutheranism and denies Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformed/Anglican views. Or it could be a Catholic monument — one that specifically affirms Roman Catholicism while dismissing all the other perspectives, etc. (I suppose it could even be a Samaritan monument — but only if its actually erected on Mount Gerazim, as the 10th Commandment requires.)
But any Ten Commandments monument that includes a listing of those commandments has to choose — has to prefer one sectarian view over all the others.
This is why any Ten Commandments monument that includes such a listing necessarily constitutes an establishment of religion. It states an official, public, government preference for one sect over others.
Officials endorsing such monuments — and thereby endorsing one sect over all the others — often defend the practice by pointing out that the Ten Commandments are depicted on the United States Supreme Court building itself. This is either a clueless or a dishonest defense. Hermon MacNeil’s sculpture on the Court’s East Pediment, above the words “Justice, the Guardian of Liberty,” depicts Moses holding the Sinai tablets. (Moses is flanked by Confucius and Solon. Aesop’s Tortoise and Hare are there too. It’s an odd sculpture.) But this depiction of the tablets does not include any listing or enumeration of the commandments. It avoids the inescapably sectarian choice that the monuments are making.
Any level of government making such a sectarian choice — and thereby officially establishing such a sectarian preference — is a violation of the First Amendment. It establishes one sect above others, and thereby prohibits the free exercise of religion for adherents of every other sect. (The establishment of sectarian preference also infringes on the free exercise of adherents of the privileged sect itself, albeit in a different, more insidious, more perniciously corrosive way. Establishment is the enemy of free exercise and free conscience in every case.)So that new big rock in Little Rock will have to go. Arkansas’ new official sectarian monument is nakedly unconstitutional. Its sectarian enumeration of the commandments preferences one sectarian perspective and diminishes all the others. That’s illegal. It’s a violation of justice, the guardian of liberty.
And, as Satanic Temple gadfly Lucien Greaves notes, it’s also a violation of Arkansas’ own state constitution, which holds that “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment, denomination or mode of worship, above any other.”
Right-wing state Sen. Jason Rapert and his Bartonian “American Heritage and Hegemony Foundation” (that’s more accurate) may seem to be winning their unconstitutional argument by erecting their monument, but that’s temporary. That’s why MacNeil included the Tortoise and Hare, remember.
Apart from the flagrant constitutional violations of this sectarian marking of territory, I also object to this Arkansas monument on sectarian grounds. I think it’s Bad Theology. I think it’s blasphemous.
Rapert’s rock selectively omits the most important part of the passage in Exodus 20. The monument reads: “I am the Lord thy God … thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
What’s rejected there is God’s statement of identity. Leave that out and nothing that follows makes any sense. Which God is this talking about? Rapert’s rock doesn’t say, but Exodus 20 does: “ I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
This is who God is. No God but this one. No God but the God of refugees and liberated slaves.
By making the sectarian choice to leave that out, the Arkansas monument honors instead some other God. Rapert’s God of Arkansas’ “History and Heritage” — the God of the house of slavery itself.
So the Arkansas monument isn’t just unconstitutional, it’s also oppressive and blasphemous.
Smash it with a wrecking ball and grind it into dust.