by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
August 24, 2003
WHY SHOULDN'T WE KILL?
Civilization sprang from law, and while there may have been earlier ones, the 10 Commandments - known to Jews as the Ten Declarations - pre-date Islam by 2,100 years, Christianity by 1,400 years, Confucianism by 850 years, and Buddhism by 775 years. They are the first Law of modern civilization, and while there may be a degree of religious and academic controversy about which version of these laws represents which religion, those differences are not carved in stone.
Moreover, there is a fundamental fact about the 10 Commandments: They are the reason we are a civilized people. For that reason alone, they do not merit exclusion from public places unless it is because they acknowledge the existence of God, as the Declaration of Independence also does, and to do so on that grounds is unconstitutional as a prohibition of religious expression - unless it is also unconstitutional to exhibit the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives and to teach it in our schools.
The 10 Commandments are the foundation of Western law, just as the Preamble (which is excluded from consideration as part of the Constitution but is very much part of it) is the foundation stone of the United States government. Even in Judaism, which recognizes 613 such commandments, or mitzvot, each of those is also recognized as a subdivision of the 10 that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai The U.S. Constitution expressly permits the free practice of religion and expressly prohibits the establishment not of religion but of a religion. Therefore, anything construed as "establishing" a religion is tabu under the law, but no expression of it may be forbidden. The 10 Commandments belong to no religion, but to a religious tradition that must have a place of honor in American life..
An attorney cannot be forbidden to recite the Koran (which precisely reiterates all 10 commandments in Quranic verse) or the Bible or the Lotus Sutra in any courtroom should it otherwise be relevant when it is his or her right to speak in a courtroom, and no defendant can be sanctioned by any American court for invoking his or her religious belief as the basis for his conduct in a criminal action. It is in the mere scholarly and technical sense that the wording of the 10 Commandments are a preference of one religion or another, yet they are a fundamental expression of religious practice that may not be inhibited by courts.
The commandment "Thou shalt not murder" or "Thou shalt not kill" is the sole basis for any penal code section concernng homicide, and "Thou shalt not steal" is the sole basis for penalizing theft and robbery. Why, otherwise, would we not freely kill, and freely steal? Indeed, that is a right under Islamic law under certain circumstances, yet even that law says "If anyone has killed one person it is as if he had killed the whole of mankind." We permit people to kill others in self-defense - and so does the Old Testament. We kill at war and we kill at peace. So if we are otherwise free, what basis would our laws have to deny us the right to kill when we please? There are tens of thousands of laws that would be without an anchor unless the code of conduct that guided the development of Western and Middle Eastern civilization was present in them.
It is not trivial that a President swears his oath of office upon a Bible and uses the words, "so help me God." Even the United States Supreme Court begins its daily exertions only after hearing the declaration, "May God save this Honorable Court." U.S. currency proclaims "In God We Trust" because expressing our religious beliefs cannot be prohibited by law. These expressions of belief do not establish a religion.
The 5,300-pound block of granite containing the 10 Commandments located inside the Supreme Court building in Montgomery, Ala., is a protected expression of religion, and it moreover is an important and historic statement relevant to every law considered by the court. It is a document of Western civilization, of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and of America's profound acceptance of a Creator who orders our lives and destinies. The commandments are laws that no one is forced to obey, and indeed our criminal courts are clogged with those who freely reject them. Our courts must not.