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{By Ryan S Bonnett, published on Facebook 29 June 2017}

If you didn’t catch it earlier this week, a man drove a car into a Ten Commandments monument outside of the Arkansas State Capitol building. While I certainly don’t condone rampant vandalism, I think that it’s important that we talk about why something like this would happen. So, yeah, I hope everyone is on their best behavior, because we need to talk about religion and politics.

There is an intrinsic problem with posting the Ten Commandments in any building such as a court or state building. The implication of that statue being there is that they are somehow related. Regardless of your political or religious leanings, there is a contradiction between the Ten Commandments and the United States Constitution that simply cannot be rectified, and this transcends any conversation about being a “Christian nation.”

It is self evident that both of these documents place high importance on what they list first, so let’s look at them:
The first Commandment reads, depending on translation, something along the lines of “I am the Lord, your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”

The First Amendment, on the other hand, specifies, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” That’s literally the first thing that they wrote.

Put these side by side. Put aside any preexisting biases that you may have. If you were to look at these separately, not knowing the context, one could only conclude that these statements are opposed. The first is a law which specifies that there is only one God that should be worshiped. The second, in plain language, states that no such law shall be established.

People have made the claim that the United States is a Christian Nation. I fully acknowledge that all of the combined forms of Christianity make up the majority of professed believers in this country, but the very foundation of this country states in its first line that we will never officially be that. And you can’t have it both ways. You can’t claim that the Constitution is a hard and fast document at the same time that you claim a dominant religion for the nation. To claim both requires a level of cognitive dissonance that I can hardly begin to comprehend.

And that’s why you get things like this act of vandalism. I had read that this man is a Christian, but at the end of the day that’s irrelevant. What matters is that we live in a country that on one hand lists freedom from state religion in its founding document. And on the other, we want to put up monuments to religious law in the very places our laws our made and enforced. What is one to think being tried in such a court that displays both? Are they to be judged by the laws of the land, or by the laws of the religion of the majority? As a non-christian, the latter is of true concern.

This reared its head on the campaign trail last year. Mike Pence said multiple times, “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican. In that order.” You can look at that benignly if you want. It can simply be a statement that his religious values are more important than his political leanings. But it’s naive to see it that way. Because in the practical sense, he’s saying that as someone in government, he’s going to let those beliefs guide him. Some may applaud this. But if you do, it’s probably because you share those beliefs with him. For someone like myself that does not, the idea that my government officials are making decisions that could directly impact my life based on personal religious beliefs is disconcerting.

Before anyone counters with the idea that the Commandments are there because we based our laws on Christianity, that notion is patently false. The history of our legal system is complicated, to say the least, but one of the biggest contributors was Roman Law. We started with something more closely related to English Common Law, being their colonies and all, but many of the things that make it our own come from Roman influences. In Europe, you can trace this directly. If you’re looking for proof, what language is most legal terminology in? Yeah, Latin. Sure, you get sprinklings of old canonical law influence from time to time, but at the end of the day, we do not have a religious base for our laws.

The point of all of this is that we need to have a serious conversation about religion and how it relates to our country. According to Pew, about seventy percent of the United States identifies as some variety of Christian. But that means three out of every ten don’t, myself among them. And this is why we have a democratic republic, not a direct democracy. Just because there is a majority (which isn’t quite as clear cut if you break it down by individual denominations), does not mean that it represents the whole country. And it absolutely means that we cannot have morality legislated and enforced based on religious beliefs.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, there is a video game set to be released in the near future where you play as someone fighting back against a religious militia. Say what you’d like about it, but if there weren’t underlying religious tensions, this would never get off of the ground. The movie adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Mist” prominently features people at the mercy of a religious majority making decisions based on faith, some of which are horrifying. While these are fictitious, there have always been fears that people will be at the mercy of a religion that they do not believe in.
Ask yourself, how would you react if you were to find yourself in a foreign courtroom, only to see their religious tenets prominently displayed, and those tenets being in direct contradiction of your own? Because that is essentially what placing the Ten Commandments on any government property is achieving for a large minority of our fellow countrymen.

I have no issue with someone practicing their religion privately. I only take issue when those privately held beliefs are placed in direct opposition to laws based on reason and common sense. The United States was the ultimate experiment of the Age of Enlightenment. Let’s act like it.

And the first step in that direction is removing things that might indicate that we have laws that some choose to believe in that supersede the laws of the land.