Tuesday, November 2, 2010

If The Law Really Was Based on the Ten Commandments

Colorado Tea Party Conservative, Ken Buck, doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state.

During a forum for conservative (who else, right?) Senate candidates last year, Buck said:

“I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state, it was not written into the Constitution.”

Buck went on to explain that what the Separation Clause of the First Amendment really means is that while the government isn’t allowed to force its will upon religion, the converse is not true. I.e. religion should be involved in government.  Buck carefully didn’t say which religion, but then he didn’t have to since the next sentence out of his pious mouth was a condemnation of President Obama’s supposed renaming of the White House Christmas Tree to a “Holiday” tree  (An internet rumor that had been long, long debunked before Buck repeated it. We’ll come back to lying for Jesus later).

Buck, of course, is not alone.

Tea Party Virgin Queen, Christine O’Donnell, said basically the same thing during a debate with her democratic rival Chris Coons. The audience audibly gasped out loud when O’Donnell responded to Coons’ assertion that the Constitution prohibited religion’s integration into government by saying:

“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?”

She was widely pilloried in the media which reported her statement as a “gaff.” The gaff, actually, of this election season. But I think people misinterpreted what O’Donnell was actually up to. If you watch her in the video you can see the crafty look on her face. (O’Donnell should probably avoid playing poker for money – or sex – just saying).  See, she thought she was springing a trap on Coons, it’s obvious by her manner and voice. She pressed Coon’s to describe exactly where in the Constitution “separation of church and state” appears – and Coons couldn’t. Well, at least not exactly. Because, of course, the phrase “separation of church and state” doesn’t actually appear in the Constitution.

The phrase in question is a misquote of a statement made by President Thomas Jefferson in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists.  The Danburys had written to the president not seeking a role for religion in government, but just exactly the opposite.  They were seeking assurances that the US Constitution gave the Federal Government power to prevent the individual states from establishing their own religions. In other words, the Baptists were very much concerned that the federal government wasn’t strong enough, and that the states might have too much power. Jefferson wrote back and assured the Danburys that the Constitution did indeed ensure that a "wall of separation between church and state" existed at both the State and Federal level.

Chris Coons rightly cited the First Amendment as the source of that authority, the so-called “separation clause.”

Then O’Donnell sprang her little trap – she tried to get Coons to say specifically that the words “separation of church and state” are written verbatim in the Amendment. I suspect that Coons didn’t actually understand at the time what O’Donnell was up to – mostly because O’Donnell is utterly inept at such verbal legerdemain. From the derisive laughter, the audience didn’t get what she was up to either, and simply assumed she was an idiot (Hey, sometimes past performance is an indication of future returns). O’Donnell then tried to get Coons to list the other rights contained in the First Amendment. And he couldn’t. I couldn’t find a video to embed here, but proprietary ones are widely available. If you watch it, note the smug look on O’Donnell’s face at this point in the debate.  She thought she’d made her point. She thought she had proven her cleverness with a bit of trivia she looked up on Wikipedia. She thought she had, in fact, won the entire debate. She prepared for one talking point, and she figured that was all she needed.  What she didn’t understand, and still doesn’t seem to understand, is that a public political debate is not the same as “debating” other fundamentalist Christians who already agree with you – and are in fact the ones who put the words in your mouth to begin with. 

After the debate, O’Donnell couldn’t understand why both the media and people in general were making fun of her.

O’Donnell and other Christian fundamentalist candidates insist that the Constitution be interpreted literally as originally written. They insist that it is not, nor has it ever been, a living document – despite the many, many, many words to the contrary written and spoken by the Framers themselves. Say like the afore mentioned Thomas Jefferson,  (Yes, that is correct, Christine O’Donnell, Ken Buck, Sharron Angle, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and etcetera believe they know more about the Constitution than Thomas Jefferson – and they call Democrats arrogant, but I digress, yet again). This literal interpretation is a consistent paradigm. These are the same folks who speak joyously about a Living God and yet profess a worldview based on a selectively literal interpretation of His Word, i.e. the Christian bible.

Both Buck and O’Donnell insist that religion be allowed into government. And not just any religion, of course, but evangelical Christianity.

They are not alone.

Every single Tea Party candidate, and a rather large number of Conservatives have said exactly the same thing. Exactly the same thing, word for word, almost like they’re reading from the same script – not that mavericks would be marching to the same drummer mind you.

They claim Christianity, and specifically the Ten Commandments as basis for both the Constitution and the law here in America.  A number of Conservatives have gone to court over it, attempting to get the Big Ten into those self same court rooms.

On this election day, I wondered what it would be like if these people actually got their way.

What if the Ten Commandments were the basis for American law?

Of course, first you’d have to figure out which set of commandments we’re talking about. See, according to Judeo Christian Muslim text, the commandments were written on a pair of stone tablets by the finger of God and given to Charlton Heston, who then lugged these huge blocks of stone down off Mount Sinai (or was it Mt Horeb? And you know, thanks for that, Big Guy. What? They don’t have huge blocks of heavy ass granite down in the valley? I gotta go all the way to the top of a fucking mountain to get them? No, no. That’s cool. I don’t mind. Jerk). When he got back to camp, Moses found the Israelites hanging out with Charlie Sheen – Moses had been gone for a month and a half after all, the people got bored. Plus, they figured Moses himself had been getting a little burnin’ bush action, so you know, what the hell, right? Moses was not amused, he got all Old Testament and smashed the tablets on the ground and went off to sulk. The people were all chagrined and promised to enter rehab, again (but this time they meant it. Of course, the people had their fingers crossed behind their backs the whole time, what happens in the desert stays in the desert, the Sinai is the Las Vegas of the Holy Land).

Moses tried to superglue the tablets back together, but eventually he had to go back up the mountain and ask God for a reprint. Try to imagine that conversation: YOU DID WHAT? YEAH, I’LL MAKE YOU NEW ONES, BUT THEY’RE GOING TO BE TWICE AS HEAVY AS THE ORIGINALS.

Eventually Moses returned to the Israelites with a copy.

But, and here’s the thing, here may have been a difference between the first and second editions (maybe God added a footnote, “Thou shall not throw a tantrum and smash the Holy Tablets, Dickweed”). Tea Party types are big on originals. So, which version of the Ten Commandments should serve as basis for US law? See, even if they are pretty much the same in intent, it’s the words as written that actually matter – which was Christine O’Donnell’s point in the debate about the Establishment Clause. Also, the Bible makes mention of an owner’s manual, something called the Book of the Covenant, some extra stuff that didn’t appear on the stone tablets as part of the actual Commandments. Some of these items are listed in Exodus, but apparently there was a whole separate book – since lost. Kind of like if you just misplaced the whole Bill of Rights. One wonders what might have been in there? Maybe, Thou shall not act the asstard towards gay people? Thou shall not go door to door with your religion irritating the piss out of people? Thou shall not deny the scientific evidence and act like corporate tools until it’s too late?  I guess we’ll never know.  But the remaining Big Ten aren’t exactly a hell of a lot to base an entire body of law on. The Big Ten first appeared long, long, long before the Bible was penned. They actually appear in the Jewish holy book, the Torah. There’s a version or two in the Dead Sea Scrolls. They appear twice in the Christian bible, in Exodus and Deuteronomy in different forms. And, of course, there are different versions of the Christian bible, depending on which flavor of Christian you are (Flavor. Lions. See what I did there? I love that joke). There are some major differences between these versions, which one is correct? There’s a version in the Quran. And there are, in fact, a dozen different versions that appear in ancient religions texts in one form or another throughout history.

Which one should we use?

Words matter, right? The exact words. That’s the whole argument when it comes to the Establishment Clause, right? The First Amendment doesn’t specifically say “separation of church and state,” it doesn’t specifically say that the church can’t just take over the US government, or teach creationism in the public schools, or burn witches at the stake, or declare Thursdays Federal Jesus Day. So, why can’t Christians do those things since they are not specifically prohibited in the actual wording of the Constitution?

According to the Christian Conservatives, that’s exactly the point. The words matter.

What? Oh, I see. Wording matters in the Constitution, but the Bible, being the literal word of God, is flexible depending what you want it to mean this week. Good basis for law, you think?

You can see why Madison and the rest of the Framers gave up at this point and wrote the Constitution instead, it was just easier.


Me? I’m kind of partial to the Cecil B. DeMille version, it was good enough for Charlton Heston, it’s good enough for me.

1. I am the Lord your God.

Well, OK. Sure.  Insert dubious expression here. Question, got any ID? Look I hate to be this way, but just this morning I got a letter from some guy claiming to be a Nigerian Oil Minister. See my point? I mean, far be it from me not to take the word of some random goat herd who has been dead for about 3000 years.  And seriously folks, is it just me? Stone Tablets? Really? Stone Tablets. With writing on them? See the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt. A lot of them were masons, stone masons actually. Who, you know, built all those stone buildings and made all those stone tablets and did all those stone inscriptions. Moses disappears for a month and reappears with stone tablets. No really, God gave them to me. He did. I swear. See? That’s his signature right there. What’s that behind my back? Nothing. Certainly not my hammer and chisel. Nope.  Now don’t get all pissy, I’m sure Moses was a stand up guy, but if we’re going to use this as a basis for our law, I’m at least going to need to see a driver’s license.  Better yet a birth certificate (wouldn’t that be cool? Name of baby, Jehovah. Name of father: Jehovah. Name of mother: Jehovah. Number of toes: 11. State of Issue: West Virginia). I mean honestly, I am the Lord your God? How do we know this guy isn’t from Kenya or something? Yep, I’m going to need an original vault copy of that birth certificate.

Credentials aside, exactly what laws should be based on the 1st Commandment? One of the planks in the Tea Party platform is a demand that all laws include a specific reference to the Constitutional clause that allows Congress to make such a law in the first place. I assume the Tea Party would have the same requirement if our law was based on the Big Ten. So, for what law does this commandment form the foundation? I am the Lord your God? That’s like saying, I am Larry, your bartender, it’s dollar pitcher night, who’s your god now? Great idea, but not really helpful.  

2a. You shall have no other gods before me.

Way to call Shotgun there, Jehovah. This is apparently the origin of the phrase, “God is my co-pilot.” Notice God doesn’t say there aren’t other Gods, just that He gets head of the line privileges.  No mention of a specific belief system here, but I suppose it could be argued that this Commandment does, in fact, mandate a state religion (though you’ll note it makes no mention of rituals, worship, or the wearing of pointy hats). Unfortunately for Christians it would appear that the state religion in question is, in fact, Judaism. But, hey, at least there’ll be decent food at the Sunday potluck. Be sure not to miss the White House Menorah Lighting, which will kick off the official War on Christmas (The position of Anti-Christmas Czar is still open, get your applications in, Folks). Also, speaking of laws, instead of checking for your immigration papers, cops will now be required to check for circumcision – make sure to have your clean shaven trouser trout on you at all times.

2b. You shall not make for yourself an idol.



What about American Idol? You know, a lot of people worship that show. Hello? OK, fine, we’ll get rid of it. But Billy Idol, he’s still cool right?

Oh settle down, you’re going to have to expect some flippancy when “No Idols” is at number three. Again, far be it from me to question God’s priorities here, but the idol thing is number three? Three? Rape, murder, arson, child molestation, driving too slow in the fast lane – but graven images, that’s number three. Nice to know what God considers a priority, eh?

3. Do not take the name of the Lord in Vain.

A lot of people seem to think this is the anti-swearing law. It’s not (which is a goddamned good thing, but I digress, try not to look surprised).  This is about lying. This is about swearing an oath with your hand on the holy book and saying “So help me, God” and then not living up to that oath. This is most especially about trying to get your way by claiming it’s what God wants. Say, like when Sarah Palin mentioned that God told her to run for office. Christine O’Donnell made that same statement (As I write this, O’Donnell has definitively lost her bid for the Senate, apparently God was just fucking with her. Run for the Senate, Christine, Ruuuuuuun. Heh heh. No really). Why, so did George Bush (both of them). So did Sharron Angle. Glenn Beck speaks for God all of the time. So does Rush Limbaugh. So does one hell of a lot of people on the Right – especially those Megachurch Pastors that blare from TV sets across the country. Now that the Ten Commandments are law, these folks are going to have to prove those statements in a court.  Does the defendant have any witnesses? Any witnesses at all? I see here you’ve called God. I don’t see him in the court room. Bailiff please round up God and tell him if he doesn’t get his big hindquarters in here right now, it’ll be $50 for contempt of court. What? He’s not in the hall? I’ll give him two minutes to appear or you’re screwed, Glenn.

4. Remember the Sabbath and Keep it Holy.

So much for the Sunday game.

5. Honor your father and mother.

So, what you’re saying here is that the government can mandate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day cards? What the fuck is this? A government bailout of Hallmark?  Whoops, looks like socialism is now required by God.

6. Thou shall not murder

Finally. All the way down here at number six, something practical. No murdering. Got it. That should be easy enough. No murdering.

7. Thou shall not commit adultery

Woot! This is going to be fun. We can send about half the Republican Party to jail right off the bat. They’ll have plenty of company, since a significant number of TV Ministers will be there too. The good news is that at least we’ll finally have something in common with the Iranians. Maybe we can get together for a good stoning.

8. Thou shall not steal

Wait, adultery comes before theft? And, man, Wall Street is going to be screwed.

9. Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Uh oh. Wouldn’t that be like when Joe Miller claimed Lisa Murkowski voted for the Healthcare Bill, knowing full well that she didn’t? Sharron Angle is sure going to have a hard time explaining those anti-Latino ads. Then there are the Birthers…  You know, Number 9 here is going to be a real headache in general, but the up side is that it basically sounds the death knell for political attack ads. Oh, and Ken? Mr. Buck? Remember that little lie you told about Obama renaming Christmas? Jesus wants to talk to you, and he looks pissed.

10. Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s wife - or anything else  your neighbor has.

What? Oh, you’ve got to be kidding. This is bullshit! No Coveting? Like no coveting at all? But that’s completely unAmerican! What if my neighbor has a bigger TV or a more expensive car? Or a smoking hottie of a wife? Shit, coveting is what drives America!  No coveting, no capitalism! What the hell are we supposed to do now? Wander around with twelve friends sponging off everybody? Yeah, that’ll go over big.


Of course, the good news is that pretty much everything else is wide open.

You know, on second thought, maybe the separation of the church and state isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Happy election night folks.


  1. sheila, who is not lurking today,November 3, 2010 at 7:44 AM

    "Chris Coons rightly sighted the First Amendment as the source of that authority"

    You meant "cited" here, right? Chris Coons is okay with the Constitution as it is, I should think. It's the Tea Partiers who are taking aim at the First Amendment, at least where it concerns the rights of people who don't agree with them....

    Do I sense you're still in sniper mode, ready to pick off sign-stealing trespassers?

  2. I can't wait until we get to outlaw shellfish and pork.

  3. I suspect we're all going to hellinahandbasket for agreeing with Jim today.

    No problem, I'm right there with ya! Save me a place at the bar.

    pikin = Used for emphasis. Ex: Now, hol' on there a cott'n pikin minute Bubba!!

  4. Yeah, but who wants to go to Heaven? As the great theologian Edmund Blackadder pointed out during his brief tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury, Heaven is for people who like doing the things they do in Heaven, like singing, talking to God, watering plants. Borrrr-ing. Hell, now, is for people who have more interesting preoccupations... pillage, for instance....

  5. I'm a liberal elitist with an education, so I don't understand Real Americans(TM), but how is a Evangelical Christian's idea of government based on the Bible any different from an Islamist's idea of government based on the Quran?

  6. sheila, still not lurking,November 3, 2010 at 5:55 PM

    If there is a Real American (TM), Tea Party-ruled Theocratic States of America coming, Bill, then I'm in a lot of trouble. The only question, when the lynch mob arrives at my door, is which reason they will offer for hanging me: will they come for me first because I am a liberal, or a nonbeliever, or a scientist, or an "anchor baby"?

  7. At least its just the 10 Big Ones and not all that weird crap in Leviticus.

    And do we trust the source? All we have is the word of someone who wrote down what the smashed tablets said...

    And do we use the set in Exodus or in Deuteronomy? They're pretty close, but if we use them BOTH, then clever lawyers will surely test God's patience because they'd get him on technicalities.


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