come schools can teach all kinds of things that violate the Ten Commandments and
yet censor any mention of the Ten Commandments within school walls?
Your guess is as good as anybody's why educators think it's OK to teach
kids to do things that are universally considered wrong, such as the things
listed in the Ten Commandments. But actually, it is not unconstitutional to
post the Ten Commandments in schools, or to incorporate them in lessons on all
kinds of school subjects.
Usually, to make sure it doesn't come off as proselytizing vulnerable
students, though, that document is displayed or taught alongside other
foundational documents of American history and government, usually the Magna
Carta, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
This is to stay within the boundaries of the key U.S. Supreme Court case
in 1971 that set up what's called "the Lemon
test" since the litigant was named Lemon, not because it's a bad case (just a
little legal humor there). The Lemon test requires that a Ten Commandments
posting must have a secular purpose that neither advances nor inhibits
religion, and that does not foster excessive government entanglement.
So if the Ten Commandments are posted alongside other important
documents, in the same type font and so forth, as part of a curricular lesson,
and the display is only temporary, it passes muster.
The high court ruled otherwise in a case out of Kentucky, Stone v. Graham (1980), in which the
State of Kentucky required by law that all school classrooms have the Ten
Commandments posted. In that case, it was deemed government indoctrination or
endorsement of religion, and the judges said the displays had to go.
But there is widespread misunderstanding about the distinctions between
what is OK and what is not, and consequently many educators think it's illegal,
and therefore it's rare to find the Ten Commandments in schools anywhere any
It's pretty crazy: the vast majority of children in the vast majority of
classrooms, public and private, come from Christian homes. Yet most educators think
it is wrong for them to have any contact whatsoever with the Bible, Christian
principles, Christian heroes, even Christian holidays. The very censorship of
God in the public schools is a direct violation of the most important
commandment that God has given, the First Commandment, which is to acknowledge
the one true God.
extremely confusing, since the most important of all our constitutional
amendments, the First Amendment, states that "Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof." So it would seem to be bedrock legal principle that people
should be free to post the Ten Commandments. Just displaying the 10 statements
is far from "establishing" a religion, and the inference from reading the Ten
Commandments that there is only one true God is not imposing "religion" on
anybody; it's a point of view, and it happens to be the dominant point of view of
American history, reflecting the higher law that undergirds all American
the Supreme Court itself has often acknowledged God. In 1952, Justice William
O. Douglas, writing for the court, stated in Zorach v. Clauson, "We
are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." And
in 1961 in McGowan v. Maryland, Justice Douglas observed that the
"institutions of our society are founded on a belief that there is an
authority higher than the authority of the state, that there is a moral law
which the state is powerless to alter, and that the state possesses rights
conferred by the Creator which government must respect."
In addition, every
state constitution acknowledges God, and so does our national motto, "In
God we trust." Ironically, the Supreme Court itself opens with what they
called a prayer in Engel v. Vitale, "God save the United States and
this honorable court."
should make sure to post the Ten Commandments in their own homes, and you can
get book covers with them on them for your child's textbooks. For more about
religious liberty and the separation of church and state, consult the American Center for Law and Justice.