ORLANDO – Should the Ten Commandments be considered a part of our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage, and a worthy historical document that belongs in our public schools?
Or are the Ten Commendments too often used as a political weapon to divide people and make it harder for religious minorities to feel like they fit into mainstream society?
This debate, which has sharply divided liberals and conservatives for decades, shows no signs of easing up anytime soon, with both sides still convinced that their position is the clear, logical, and reasonable one. The gulf between their views remains wide and deep.
On Saturday, former Congressman Alan Grayson, an Orlando Democrat, and conservative radio commentator and political activist Doug Guetzloe took on the issue, during a forum in Altamonte Springs.
Asked by a member of the audience whether it was appropriate to post the Ten Commandments in our nation’s schools, the two political activists went in sharply different directions as they answered the question.
For Guetzloe, this is a matter of free speech, and letting people of faith put historic religious documents in the schools that they, as taxpayers, help to fund.
“I don’t see anything wrong with the Ten Commandments being in the schools, and we all know it’s not a Christian document, but rather a part of our Judeo-Christian heritage,” he said.
The First Amendment, he said, should guarantee that people of faith don’t have their values excluded from the public square, but rather protected along with all other forms of political, religious and cultural speech.
“I do not see the differential in the First Amendment that says we shouldn’t have religious documents in our public schools,” he said.
Our nation’s founders, he added, had no books at all until the introduction of the printing press. After that, there was one book that united everyone.
“The only book everybody had then was the Holy Bible,” Guetzloe said.
Guetzloe also praised Grayson, noting that during his term from 2009-2010, the Democratic congressman introduced a bill requiring that the U.S. Constitution be taught to our nation’s schoolchildren. If the Constitution is a historic document worthy of study, Guetzloe said, why not the 10 Commandments as well?
But Grayson countered, “I see a fundamental difference between the Constitution and the Holy Bible.”
One thing the United States doesn’t need, Grayson said, is a state-sponsored religion. This nation should be tolerant and welcoming of different religions and spiritual viewpoints, he said. Requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in public places like schools, he said, delivers the message that Christianity is the nation’s official religion.
“I don’t think that it’s fair to consider a law requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments as anything other than the establishment of a religion,” Grayson said. “We’ve had the (U.S.) Supreme Court say for well over 100 years that this kind of law is unconstitutional. I think they’re right.”
In June 2005, the Supreme Court handed down two 5-4 decisions on displaying the Ten Commandments in public. The court allowed an exhibit at the Texas capitol, but prohibited 10 Commandments at two Kentucky courthouses.
In the Kentucky cases, the majority determined the displays violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which sets down the principle of separation of church and state. The amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The court found the Ten Commandments had been posted in the Kentucky courthouses to promote a specific religion or religious viewpoint.
In the Texas case, though, the court ruled that a six-foot granite Ten Commandments display set up in 1961 was simply one out of nearly 40 monuments and historical markers spread across 22 acres of the capitol in Austin, and that it served a broader moral and historical message.
Grayson said he felt the Ten Commandments were often posted to promote more of a political rather than spiritual message, and that it also served to exclude religious minorities.
“The motives behind the people who try to pass these things we should consider,” he said. “I think they’re trying to stick their finger in the eye of the minorities.”
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