Why the Government Should Not Post the Ten Commandments

by John B. Hodges

For centuries, millennia, the theory that justified tyranny and oppression was "the Divine Right of Kings". Government was alleged to be a divine institution, rulers got their authority from God. This theory is taught in the Bible (Romans 13), but it is older than that. Theocracy is the most ancient theory of government.

The history of divinely anointed government was not good. The Bible has not one word supporting religious liberty; on the contrary. Deuteronomy 5 (the first Commandment) tells us to worship Yahveh only, and Deuteronomy 13 tells us to kill anyone who doesn't. The first seven Commandments all carry the death penalty, according to the surrounding text. Neither does the Bible support "equal rights" in any form; slavery was taken for granted, in the Old Testament and the New.

In the American Revolution we rebelled against this theory. King George the Third was allegedly King by the grace of God; our founders denied that. They could have set up another King, and claimed that our new government ruled by the grace of God, but they did not. They declared a different theory, that governments were human institutions, created by the people for their mutual defense. Governments represented the people, receiving their authority from the people. The first 52 words of our Constitution state this premise. Our government is not authorized to speak, much less rule, on religious matters; individual conscience rules instead.

Liberty and democracy were challenged in the past 150 years by theories of socialism. The National Socialism of the Nazis, the one-party "vanguard" of the Bolsheviks, both claimed to represent the people but valued neither liberty nor democracy. Both have been discredited, neither is now the inspiration for large popular movements. The rising threat for the coming century, strangely enough, seems to be theocracy again.

Everyone has heard of Muslim theocrats in Iran and Afghanistan, but we have homegrown Christian theocrats in America. They are doing their best to lead a popular movement, to rewrite the history of America in their own image. They want the government to post the Commandments because that would proclaim the theocratic premise, that the law comes from God, and the government rules by the authority of God.

Some have argued that posting the Commandments harms nobody, establishes no particular religion. But this is naiive, if not dishonest. The theocrats are moving one step at at time; they will get to burning heretics in due course.

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