A judge in Alabama stood his ground, and we are all the better for it. He refused to cave in to those who demanded that he remove a plaque that embronzed the Ten Commandments from his courtroom. The ACLU argued that this public display of the Ten Commandments is an infringement on the rights of those outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
This, contends the ACLU, is a violation of the first amendment of the constitution, which guarantees that no religious tradition be given a favored position by power of the state. The ACLU argues that Muslims, Hindus, and peoples of several other religions, could be offended by the practice of displaying the law of God as given to Moses in a government sponsored setting.
What the ACLU and other complainers fail to grasp is that America has changed since the 1960s, when government seemed determined to move religion out of the public sector. Religious people today are organized to give voice to their concerns over the secularization of our society, and they certainly have been organized to support Judge Roy Moore of Alabama. They marched, they demonstrated, and they petitioned on his behalf. And, what is more, they are being heard!
Whether one is pro or con the Christian Coalition, who have organized the support for this cause, you have to say that all of us who want to keep religious faith at the core of the American psyche should stand behind them as they stand up for Judge Moore.
Secondly, the ACLU may be forgetting that in 1993 congress passed the Religious Restoration Act. That piece of legislation guarantees that religious practices cannot be removed from public settings unless it can be proved that there is a compelling argument that they are detrimental to the well being of the community. I think that it will be a hard case to make that the Ten Commandments are a detriment to societal well being. One of the good things that have come out of the Clinton Administration is the Religious Restoration Act that protects religion against just the kind of assault that the ACLU is presently pressing against Judge Moore.
Finally, there is the argument that Judge Moore himself presents. He points out that law in America was built on the morality and value system that was laid down in the Hebrew Bible. To disconnect American law for the biblical tradition, according to Judge Moore, would be to undercut the very basis of our entire legal system. To me, that argument seems irrefutable. When all is said and done on this matter, I believe that Judge Moore will be vindicated, and the Supreme Court will allow the Ten Commandments to continue to hang in his courtroom.
This does not mean that those of us who stand with the Judge should ignore the call to accommodate those of other religions. Personally, I have no objection to having the basic sayings of morality outlined by the Compassionate Buddha, or the sayings of Confucius hung up alongside the Ten Commandments. As long as these other religious expressions support the law of the land, which, in turn, is based on the historic laws of Moses, we should be open to them. I do not object to giving equal room to other religions. Such inclusion is required and just in a pluralistic society like ours. But it must be acknowledged by all Americans that there is a common basis for law in America that flows out of biblical morality. It is not that we Christians and Jews want to exclude other religions from public life, but that we object to attempts to secularize our society and exclude religion itself from all but private life.
Civil religion has gotten a bad name as of late. But what every sociologist knows is that the laws of society have no hold on people unless those people recognize that the laws are legitimated by a higher authority than the people themselves. It is not just the survival of law itself that is at stake. Without a higher authority as a reference for right and wrong, law becomes arbitrary and easily neglected.
Author and speaker Tony Campolo is a professor of sociology at Eastern College in St. David, PA.