Politics and the Church – Building a Free Nation [Part 21]

This week we will finish up a brief review of how the Ten Commandment played a key role in the establishment of this nation’s laws and constitution.  Our founders were men of faith and knew that a foundation based on the Bible would be a strong foundation.

     The Ninth Commandment prohibits perjury or bearing “false witness”.  This Commandment became the foundation for our judicial system.  Connecticut enacted a perjury law in 1642.  Similar laws declaring their basis in the Decalogue were enacted by Massachusetts in 1641, by Rhode Island in 1647, and by New Hampshire in 1680.  The Oregon Supreme Court stated, “No official is above the law. ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness’ is a command of the Decalogue, and that forbidden act is denounced by the statute as a felony.”  

     The Tenth Commandment prohibits coveting. John Adams, the first Vice President and second President, talked about property rights, and stated, “If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’, were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.” (John Adams, 4 The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States 9 [Francis Adams, ed. 1851]).  This Commandment has been cited as the basis of civil laws against defamation, laws preventing election fraud, laws targeting white collar crime, and laws targeting modern forms of cattle rustling.

     One would have to rewrite American history to conclude that the Ten Commandments played an insignificant role in the foundation of our system of law and government.  William Findley observed that the Ten Commandments were “incorporated in the Judicial law.”  John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, states, “The law given on Sinai was a civil and municipal as well as a moral and religious code.”  In 1950 the Florida Supreme Court declared: “A people unschooled about the sovereignty of God, the Ten Commandments, and the ethics of Jesus, could never have evolved the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.  There is not one solitary fundamental principle of our democratic policy that did not stem directly from the basic moral concepts as embodied in the Decalogue…”

     To see the original Constitution and Declaration of Independence one must first view the Ten Commandments at the entrance to the National Archives.  Moses is the only figure facing forward out of twenty-three other profiles of famous law givers, and he occupies the central position in the United States House Chamber.  Similarly, Moses with the Ten Commandments faces forward in the central position perched over the Chief Justice’s seat in the United States Supreme Court.

     The Ten Commandments played a significant role in the foundation of American law.  Any other conclusion would require erasing numerous pages of American history.  Displaying the Ten Commandments, either alone, or in the context of historical documents, is appropriate and consistent with our American heritage.

      As I have done research to trace the elements that went into the ‘Building of a Free Nation’ I have yet to identify a founder that was atheist, a God hater, or a founder that opposed the Ten Commandments.  As I have looked at the Ten Commandments, I ask myself: “Which of any of the ten, if totally incorporated into our society, would make the United States a worse place to live?” I have yet to come up with an answer.  What if we worshipped a god other than our Father in Heaven?  Societies in the past…and present…have tried that.  I can’t think of a single one where that worked.  Could we rely on some mass of stone to make life better?  What if we could choose to defame the name of God and individually make our own way in life…to hell with everyone else?  What if we just worked, worked and worked and took no time to give thanks for the blessings we have?  As humans we need time off from labors.  That time was set aside as the Sabbath.  Would a seven-day work week make things better?  What if our children could do as they please from the very ‘get-go’ and get to the point parents would be treated as ‘dirt’?  We must remember that parents to have a responsibility if they want their children to honor them.  Then of course there in the one commandment that makes life available to all in spite of shortcomings…those that would drive another to tragic ends.  What if murder was an acceptable solution to disagreements or the removal of a distraction?  What if adultery was acceptable way to live life and raise the next generation?  We can see how it destroys God’s basic design for mankind today in the number of families, lives, and futures it destroys.  See something one likes and just takes it.  Would being able to steal with no recourse make life more pleasant?  And what if we had to center our God-fearing lives around those who could lie for any reason with no recourse?  Our lives would be a constant balancing act.  And finally, what if we had to stand armed guard over our possessions to protect them from those who covet those possessions?  Unfortunately, today we see far too many Commandments that are blatantly ignored, and we see the misery that causes. Our founders knew to at least incorporate the Ten Commandments into the laws of the ‘new land’. Next week we will see how their opinions impacted the foundation of a ‘Free nation’.

-Bob Munsey

“God is America’s greatest hope…He is also America’s greatest threat.”   Dr. Adrian Rogers, just before his death

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