This blog explores and examines the intersections of rhetoric, race, and religion.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Whose Ten Commandments?
The Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which begins the eve of June 3, celebrates God giving the law at Mount Sinai by reading the Ten Commandments. Those who want more religion in American life should pay close attention: The text may not be what you think.
The Ten Commandments have played a starring role in a campaign to bring more religion into public life while, in a post-9/11 world, carefully distinguishing "our" religion from "theirs." In 2005, Justice Antonin Scalia called the commandments "a symbol of the fact that government derives its authority from God." That declaration came as the Court approved public display of the commandments in a "secular" context in a 5-4 vote, while barring it in a "religious" context in another 5-4 split. Social conservatives were unsatisfied.
The 2012 Republican platform called for public display of the Ten Commandments "as a reflection of our history and of our country's Judeo-Christian heritage." The platform added a clear message about "every citizen's right to apply religious values to public policy." Though the commandments were not at issue in the Court's recent 5-4 ruling permitting explicitly religious prayer at government meetings, the majority opinion reflected the same support of "ceremonial" religion, as Justice Anthony Kennedy phrased it.
But if ever there were an example of the slippery slope between "ceremonial" and sectarian religious symbols, then the Ten Commandments surely qualify. To understand why, consider what would have happened had Republicans gathered at their 2012 convention to read the commandments out loud.