When I joined a group of college classmates on a trip to Washington, D.C., a few years back, my senses were attuned for unconstitutional references to the Supreme Being.
Even at that time, I knew which way the social winds were blowing. All of my expectations culminated on Aug. 27 of this year when a moving crew removed a massive Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building to comply with a federal court order. A federal judge ruled last year that the monument, which Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore installed, violates the Constitution's ban on government promotion of religion. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Moore's appeal.
Long before the Alabama imbroglio, I had been told that the First Amendment phrase, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," meant that a courthouse could not contain a marble slab etched with the Ten Commandments (Remember the commandments? "I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no strange gods or idols; thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; keep holy the sabbath day; honour thy father and thy mother; thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor thy neighbor's house ... nor anything that is his." Clearly, incendiary stuff.)
So during my visit to the nation's capital, I kept my eyes open for violations of the "separation of church and state."
It didn't take long to find offensive material. When our group toured the National Archives, I couldn't believe what was written in the Declaration of the Independence. The founders deferred to "Nature's God" as the source of our laws. Now, I'm no legal scholar, but based on the modern "separation of church and state" doctrine, that's clearly an illegal statement.
Then there was this phrase in the same document: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Those wigged men writing in July 4, 1776, should have remembered that "the Creator" has no place in public expression. I know I was offended by their statements.
Do you think the Ten Commandments would only emerge for public display in a rural city like Montgomery, Ala.? Think again. A marble figure of Moses representing one of the great "lawgivers" of civilization stands in the east entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. The figure holds the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. When I learned of this carving, I was appalled, to say the least.
Then somebody told me that an engraved image of the Ten Commandments is depicted in the Supreme Court's own hearing rooms, the place where they listen to oral arguments. My faith in the "separation of church and state" was shattered. Wouldn't a Supreme Court justice practice the rankest hypocrisy by allowing the Ten Commandments to be displayed in a federal building but refuse to allow similar deference by a state judge in a state building?
In the years following my trip back East, I have learned that there are almost 4,000 monuments of the Ten Commandments in city and county courthouses around the United States. Most of them were erected by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the 1950s. It seems I can't travel anywhere in the country without encountering these offensive violations of the "separation of church and state."
I poignantly remember how my trip to Washington, D.C., left me disillusioned. I learned with dismay that public acknowledgement of God reaches back to the Magna Carta of 1297 ("Know ye that we, unto the honour of Almighty God, and for the salvation of the souls of our progenitors and successors ..."). In the Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward invoke "the gracious favor of Almighty God." How could they be so blind to our First Amendment sensitivities? They, the ultimate federalists, evidently needed a federal judge on hand to edit their writing.
Today, the exhibit halls of the National Archives Building in downtown Washington, D.C., are closed for renovation. The Rotunda will reopen on Sept. 18, and the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, Emancipation Proclamation and other important historical documents will be available for viewing. Personally, I suggest that someone file a lawsuit to keep the Archives closed until the government can remove all of the offensive, religion-endorsing references from these manuscripts. If that means whiting out sections of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, so be it. We can't be displaying endorsements of religion in a public place, can we?
Also, we may need a new building for the Supreme Court until the Ten Commandments emblems can be scraped from their walls. Maybe, the courthouse in Alabama will become vacant. After all, it's obvious that we don't need state supreme courts. It seems that federal judges rule the day, dictating how we revere - or refute - America's religiously influenced legal heritage.
Anyone with comments about "Editor's Opinion" can contact David Carkhuff by calling 575-0710 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.