Columns 2009

America’s truths are self-evident

We are a country of civil, not religious, law. Anyone doubting how strongly our Founding Fathers felt about that should remember how carefully they crafted these words in our

Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” Self evident, not god given.

And just as our rights are not based on some god’s beneficence, our laws are not derived from religion either. A quick review of the Ten Commandments makes that crystal clear.

For instance, the first one says you shall have no other god before you. Seems to me our constitution specifically prohibits that commandment from being law.

The second says you can’t make a carved image for yourself and is usually interpreted to mean you may not worship false idols. Well, not only is that not a law, but if it were, an entire industry based on “American Idol” would be devastated.

Number three prohibits taking the name of the Lord in vain. This is definitely not a law and possibly not even a sin depending on whether it is Super Bowl Sunday and God is betting on your team and they’re losing. The fourth commandment connects to number three in that it requires you to keep the Sabbath holy. If this were a law, America’s sports franchises from golf to football and possibly even soccer would die a slow and painful death.

The fifth commandment requires that you honor your father and mother. Don’t get me wrong here. I always honored my mother and father based on the fear that if I didn’t, they would get to heaven before me and not let me in. You see, I knew from childhood that they were more powerful than god. But that still doesn’t make it a law in this country.

Which bring us to the first commandment that is a law – the sixth, thou shall not kill (unless thou art the state executing prisoners). Problem here is that this is pretty much a law in any society because without it, you wouldn’t have a society to which anyone wanted to belong. 

The seventh commandment, don’t commit adultery, is again a moral issue that is not a law. And let’s face it, if this one were a law, we’d have to devote forty of our fifty states to prisons for offenders.

Number eight, don’t steal. This makes the second commandment that is also a law, though a law that seems to be applied somewhat selectively. Big Wall Street financial person, feel free to steal. Small hood on the street, twenty years for knocking over a bodega.

Numbers nine and ten are interrelated. Don’t lie about your neighbor and stop being jealous of all his or her stuff.  Neither is a law but both are necessary for civility when you live somewhere separated only by a fence or wall from your neighbor. Treat your neighbors badly and they might be tempted to start mowing the lawn or blowing the snow off their driveway at 6 AM on Sunday. Since your version of keeping the Sabbath is sleeping in, this will really annoy you. Common sense would dictate trying to keep a civilized relationship with the person next door. But there is no law that says you have to.

So of those Ten Commandments, only two are actually laws.

For those who believe in the Old Testament, these moral commands are supposed to carry the weight of law since the penalty for sin is a bit harsher than a few years in Hotel Graybar.  But the great thing about living in America is that you don’t have to follow the eight purely religious commandments if you don’t want to because no one can force you to adhere to any one religion.

As a country of civil law, no one should apply religious dicta to public discourse. If your religion requires you to shun gay people, shun away. But your god cannot take away their civil rights or civil liberties because our constitution makes it crystal clear that those rights and liberties did not come from any god. They are “self-evident”.

I will protect America from anyone trying to co-opt it into being a theocracy. Because I believe America’s greatness lies in the fact that it needs no heavenly power to assert the dignity of every man, woman and child here. That dignity is self-evident.