The Ten Commandments do not belong in public schools

(U-WIRE) ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Indiana has become the latest state to be swept up in a growing national movement to allow the Ten Commandments to be hung in schools.

Last Monday, its legislature passed a bill permitting the practice. Gov. Frank O’Bannon promised to sign the bill despite its disregard for a 1980 Supreme Court ruling that found the display of the commandments in schools to be unconstitutional.

The drive to inject religion into America’s classrooms has been steadily gaining momentum in the wake of last year’s killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Following that tragic event, legislators around the country went in search of ways to prevent this type of violence from occurring again. Unfortunately, many came to the conclusion that guns don’t kill kids but that deficient knowledge of Christianity does.

With the specter of teen violence in hand, those on the religious right took the opportunity presented by the Columbine shootings to launch an all-out assault on the religious liberty of Americans.

Legislation that allows the Ten Commandments to be placed in public schools is now pending in nine states. Most are similar to Indiana’s and try to circumvent the Supreme Court’s prohibition against solely religious displays by posting them with other historical documents, such as the U.S. Constitution.

Some states, however, are not being so circumspect. In the most shockingly brazen assaults on religious freedom the United States has seen in years, the Colorado legislature will soon vote on a bill requiring that the Ten Commandments be posted in every classroom and mandating that children silently pray before each school day. Georgia is considering a measure to refuse state funds to any school that does not display the commandments.

Proponents of these bills claim that the violence in schools and society, and every other problem imaginable, is attributable to not teaching Christian morality to children. While the levels of violence in schools and in the nation at large are falling, we are routinely admonished by our self-proclaimed moral betters that America is going to hell in a hand-basket and the only way to save us is to indoctrinate children with beliefs they and their parents may or may not hold.

Nothing is inherently wrong with the Ten Commandments, and the majority of people wholeheartedly believe in them. The problem is that not everyone does. The Ten Commandments are more than just principles – they are an explicitly religious doctrine – and forcing them upon people violates constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty.

The people pushing these measures would undoubtedly be horrified if someone attempted to force any non-Christian religious principles on their children, but they are apparently incapable of entertaining any such bothersome thoughts. Despite unending exhortations to the contrary, the United States is not a Christian nation. The fundamental tenet of our national culture is the respect we afford those with opinions different from our own.

The backers of the Ten Commandments laws often claim their presence is appropriate in schools because they are the principles the United States was founded on. They are wrong. Laws seeking to surreptitiously enforce or promote any religious doctrine defame everything the United States stands for. Robbing people of their right to believe what they choose, the most fundamental of all freedoms, is indefensible and thoroughly un-American.

-Staff editorial from the Michigan Daily (U. Michigan)

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