Who does a Ten Commandments display hurt? Everyone!
What is wrong with a lovely display of the Ten Commandments at an out-of-the-way courthouse? Some would say nothing. Some would say that it is only a display of a document that has helped shaped many legal documents that followed it. Others would say that it really isn’t a big deal because it is a donated display that doesn’t establish a state religion. While all of these points may seem valid on the surface, the truth is that any display of religious doctrine in front of a courthouse erodes the freedoms and protections of and from religion all Americans enjoy.
People who support the display argue that Cross City, where the display is located, has an overwhelming protestant population with a church on nearly every street corner. Supporters of the display say that the citizens of Dixie County support the display. The leaders of Dixie County say that the space is open to other types of displays, and that they aren’t establishing a state run religion. What supporters of the monument fail to see is that religious displays near, in, at, or sanctioned by a courthouse hurt everyone including the supporters.
I am not so naive as to believe that the Ten Commandments display at the Dixie County Courthouse is establishing a state sponsored religion that will force the unfaithful to recant and begin attending church on Sundays. As a Humanist, I am not offended every time I see a Ten Commandments display. The way I see Ten Commandment displays and other mentions of religious doctrine in our government is that they are like petty crime—relatively harmless on the surface, but they act as gateways to larger infractions. It is what comes next if these displays are tolerated that is really frightening.
Is the next step prayer before sentencing? Or maybe our ministers will begin to act as judges. Once the first step is taken, it is a slippery slope to a state-endorsed religion, and once that happens every American’s freedoms will be compromised.
I know that I will receive many letters telling me that America was founded on Christian principles and so the Ten Commandments are a central tenet to our country. Although this can be debated, I don’t think it really matters what religion the founding fathers were. The only thing that is important is that they offered us protection from state sanctioned religion, and that includes the implication of an endorsed religion suggested by religious displays.
The freedom to practice any or no religion that our founding fathers afforded each and every one of us allows us to have a just and equitable society that protects everyone. I often think when confronted with arguments by supporters of displays such as the six-ton monument in Dixie County, what if Christians were confronted in their places of justice and democracy with Wiccan stars or Satanic worshipper prayers? Would it be as acceptable to have religious displays in government buildings then?
We as Americans deserve the freedom to attend church on Sunday or not, to pray before meals or not, to believe that God is the guiding force in all of our lives or not. What we absolutely deserve is a just government whose guiding principles are democracy and justice regardless of religious affiliation. As a Humanist, I want to know that my government respects my right to believe in reason and compassion in action without a deity, and that it also respects others’ rights to believe in Jesus, or God, or Mother Earth, and that we all are equal in the eyes of our government.
Overbearing, prominently displayed, six-ton, granite monuments of the Ten Commandments on the Dixie County courthouse steps give me, and other non-Christians, the impression that our Christian brethren are more valued and will be treated with more respect and perhaps more leniency and tolerance than someone like me by the very government that was established to protect and serve us all.
By Heather Wellman, Executive Director, HFA