Sunday, December 6, 2015

On the Ten Commandments Monument and the Pledge of Allegiance

Originally Written as a High School English Essay,
Entitled “Alabama Chief Justice Moore Refuses to Move 10 Commandments Monument”

Written Between Late 2003 and May 2nd, 2004
Edited on December 6th, 2015; Edits Shown in [Brackets]

     Even in 2003, over two hundred years after the conception of the separation of church and state [or at least the concept’s enshrinement in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; the concept dates back to at least as early as 300 B.C.], issues concerning politics and organized religion are still creating controversies. Roy Moore, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, recently defied a court order that demanded that he remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the Judicial Building in Montgomery [which was placed there in the mid-1950s by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in commemoration of the Charlton Heston film The Ten Commandments, directed by Cecil B. deMille]. Some believe that this court order is wrong for prohibiting the Supreme Court from housing a religious text inside its walls, which [in my opinion] is directly promoting neither theism nor any particular religion. The order stemmed from a lawsuit filed against Moore in 2001. It has been said that he failed to comply with the law, and for that, he has been charged with six ethics violations.
     Having a religious image on display in a federal building can be viewed as conflicting with the concept of separation of church and state. Separation of church and state means, by definition, that neither the state nor the federal government shall make an endorsement [i.e., establishment] of any religion [Note: the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” was a phrase used by Thomas Jefferson in an 1802 letter referencing the First Amendment, while the text of the amendment reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”. Also, some critics of the Fourteenth Amendment believe that states are not prohibited from making legislation respecting an establishment of religion]. This principle [i.e., the principle of “separation of church and state”, in the opinion of some,] forbids teaching students in public schools that God created the universe and humans. This is known as creationism. It also [, in the opinion of some,] forbids printing religious references on legal tender and the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance (which says that the nation of the United States is “under God”) in public schools. But do church and state need to be completely separated from one another? If this mixture is prohibited, should no book containing the word “God” be featured on an English class reading list? Should Bibles be prohibited within the walls of public schools? Should asking for a moment of silence be a crime and violate the First Amendment?
     According to the Bill of Rights, “freedom of religion” [not a direct quote] is guaranteed to all citizens. This means that everyone in the United States can worship and pray however, to whomever, and for whomever they wish. This also means that, should a citizen want to organize a group prayer, any person who doesn’t want to pray doesn’t have to. And should a teacher or official in a public school choose to ask for a moment of silence from his students and staff on a national holiday or day of remembrance, not everyone in the building has to pray. They don’t necessarily have to observe the moment of silence if they feel it conflicts with their beliefs, though [rather, because] a moment of silence does not necessarily call for prayer.
     The real question surrounding laws concerning the separation of church and state is “What action violating this concept would be hurtful to a person?” If “hurtful” is defined as trying to force a belief on someone who doesn’t believe it is true, teaching creationism should certainly not be allowed. When it comes to printing “in God we trust” on money - “we” referring to every U.S. citizen - this is speaking for people who may disagree with the statement. The same goes for the “under God” reference in the Pledge of Allegiance. Members of certain faiths or organized religions may not believe God governs and cares for certain nations. Removing a religious reference from the Pledge would not take anything away from a promise of loyalty; some may argue it would underscore this loyalty by not segregating those who have no faith.

     In [the case Newdow v. United States Congress, Elk Grove Unified School District, et. al., in] late June [2004] in San Francisco, California, the Pledge of Allegiance was ruled [by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit] as being a violation of the First Amendment because it contains the phrase “under God.” The case began when Elk Grove, California resident Dr. Michael Newdow, an [a]theist whose daughter [whose physical custody he shared with the girl’s mother, Sandra Banning, who retained legal custody of the child] attends a public school where her class recites the Pledge of Allegiance daily, filed a lawsuit against his state government.  Some called the ruling “political correctness run amok,” but in reality, [in my opinion, and in the opinion of the 12th Circuit Court] the Pledge, as it currently stands, is a violation of the basic freedom of worship and religion that all American citizens have, according to the First Amendment. Before one decides whether they think this ruling is immoral, they should look at the history of the phrase.
     “Under God” was added to the Pledge in 1954 when Senator Joseph McCarthy was in office and Communism was made to seem like a growing threat to the United States government and to the people. S[o the argument went, s]ince religion is undermined by [atheistic] Communist governments[,] and the people are made to reject the idea of God in favor of loyalty to the State, people saying [i.e., people who recited] the Pledge of Allegiance in America were made to vow their loyalty to God every time they recited it. Today, some may view this as religion violating the law, but does not the Pledge of Allegiance violate the beliefs of Christianity and Judaism? The First Commandment, according to the Old Testament, says that images intended to be adored or placed above God shall be condemned [Note: this practice is called iconolatry]. So, [given] the thought [i.e., the idea] that in the Pledge[,] religion is harming the law by placing a phrase forcing loyalty to God upon those who recite the Pledge of Allegiance, it may be that anyone who recites the Pledge of Allegiance (providing they are Christian or Jewish [or Muslim, or followers of any Abrahamic religion]) may be breaking a [c]ommandment [i.e., because they are placing the flag and the country above God].

     Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s decision to keep the Ten Commandments monument on display is harmful to no one. On the day the monument was removed, Moore said, “It is a sad day in our country when the moral foundation of our law and the acknowledgement of God has to be hidden from public view to appease a federal judge.”
     The Ten Commandments do not advocate that people do anything violent, harmful, hateful or unethical in any way; they only suggest [really, command] that people love, respect[,] and be peaceful to one another. If the Ten Commandments advocated committing murder and acts of violence against members of other religions, that would be the only way the monument would be doing any harm. It also does not command that anyone believe in the biblical story that describes its beginnings. Nobody who passed by it and didn’t agree with what it says would feel like they have any obligation to give in to it or start believing in what it states, and the monument is in no way in any violation of ethics.
     Besides the fact that it is not harmful, Roy Moore is still within his constitutional rights by keeping the monument on display. The Constitution outlaws governmental endorsement [establishment] of a religion, but Moore is not acting as the government in this case; rather, he is a man who believes in the ideas of the Ten Commandments and thinks they are important for people to see, whether they agree with the Commandments’ ideals or not. This is merely Moore’s way of reminding himself what standards to uphold as a judge, [remind himself and his state] what the basic rules of life [or civil society] are (in his opinion), and remind him[self] that God is the only judge whose rules affect people and their souls in the long run.
     Workers removed the monument on August 27th, [2003, al]though some of Moore’s supporters are fighting to keep it on public display, including the Christian Defense Coalition (headed by Pat Mahoney, who said that the coalition is not discouraged by the court’s ruling), which has filed a later-rejected lawsuit in attempt to keep the monument in place.
     If people keep trying to push education, government, science and religion further and further apart, one or more of them will become so weak that it will die out, and people will eventually lack either intelligence, ethics, reasoning[,] or faith[,] and they will not know how to deal with each other in a higher sense.

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