Show and Tell for Parents
Search Site: 
Parents Teachers
By Susan Darst Williams
Parental Involvement
Ages & Stages
Coaching Your Child
Discipline & Safety
Health, Nutrition & Fitness
Homework Helpers
Curriculum & Instruction
Teachers & Teaching
Other School Staff
Special Learners
School Management
Finance & Taxation
Government & Politics
Private Schools
Choice & Charters
Learning on the Go
Community Involvement
Education Heroes
Bright Ideas for Change
Site Map

Parental Involvement Lite

Parents, Kids & Books

Great Books for Kids

Character Education

Writing Tips


Wacky Protests

School Humor
Home | Purpose | Ask A Question | Subscribe | Forward | Bio | Contact | Print

Controversies        < Previous        Next >



Ten Commandments


Q. How 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 more.


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.


It's 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 governmental principles.


Also confusing: 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."



Homework: Parents 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.


By Susan Darst Williams Controversies 09 2008


Controversies        < Previous        Next >
^ return to top ^
Individuals: read and share these features freely!

Publications: please contact to arrange for reprint rights to these copyrighted news stories and features.


 Links to Learn More 

 Enrichment Ideas 

 Nebraska Schooling 
 Humor Blog 
 Glimpses of God 
Copyright © 2022
Website created by Web Solutions Omaha