The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday did us all a favor by declining to hear a case from Haskell County, Okla., concerning the display of the Ten Commandments on public property.
The case, Haskell County Board of Commissioners v. James Green, stems from 2004, when the county’s Board of Commissioners voted to allow a local pastor to erect a Ten Commandments display in a public park outside the country courthouse. James Green, a resident of Stigler, enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union to back a legal challenge of the display.
A federal court in 2005 ruled the monument acceptable, but an appeals court later reversed that ruling. The high court’s refusal to hear the case most likely means the monument will be removed.
The monument is very curious. It displays the Ten Commandments on one side and the text of the Mayflower Compact on the other. It carries a line reading, “Erected by Citizens of Haskell County” – creating the impression that everyone in the community agreed with its sentiments.
Think about this for a minute. Of all the documents the commissioners could have put up, why the Mayflower Compact? Yes, it’s historical, and yes, Americans should know about it – but the theocratic society that document inspired is far removed from what the Founding Fathers eventually gave us.
This is why I find displays like this so troubling. Put aside the question of separation of church and state for a minute. These displays promote bad “Christian nation” history. If the Mayflower Compact had influenced the Constitution, we would see evidence of that. The Constitution would be replete with references to Christianity and Jesus Christ. It would demand that the government defend and advance the Christian faith.
The Constitution does not say these things. There’s a reason for that: The theocratic colony the Mayflower Compact spawned oppressed people and led to an obnoxious combination of church and state that impeded religious liberty instead of advancing it. The framers examined that system, saw that it did not work and consciously rejected it.
If the Board of Commissioners of Haskell County wants to educate citizens about American law, they would do better to stay away from documents like the Ten Commandments and the Mayflower Compact that did not influence the Constitution. I’d like to see them hang another ten – the Bill of Rights.
In other news, AU recently wrote to the Sevier County Commission in Tennessee urging members to stop opening meetings with the Lord’s Prayer and remove a Ten Commandments display from its chambers.
According to a local newspaper, the Mountain Press, some commissioners have vowed to fight. They seem to believe that the Lord’s Prayer is non-sectarian. As I pointed out, that argument will most likely prove to be a real dud if we have to go to court.
Sevier County should take a lesson from Haskell County and remove the Ten Commandments poster and stop using the Lord’s Prayer to open meetings. It’s time for the commissioners to take a big step into the 21st Century and realize that government has no business promoting, advocating or defending religion.
We’ve been there. It didn’t work. That’s why we have a better system called separation of church and state. Officials in Sevier County should try it; they just might like it.