News+Opinion » D. A. Smith

Senate committee approves Ten Commandments bill

Articles of Faith

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It's springtime, and that means the S.C. General Assembly is rapidly approaching the end of its session. Bills seem to whiz by with warp speed, sometimes intentionally.

In the crush of state budget negotiations, debate on government restructuring, damning revelations about the Sofa Super Store fire, prom and graduation seasons, garden-variety "spring fever," and spotty local media coverage, most Lowcountry residents are likely unaware that the religious right activists in the Statehouse are up to their traditional tricks.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 18-1 in favor of a bill that would allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in schools and courthouses insofar as such an exhibit contains other relevant historical documents.

Sigh. Not again.

According to H. 3159, the Foundations of American Law and Government display would include the Ten Commandments, the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Star Spangled Banner, the Bill of Rights, the Preamble to the S.C. Constitution, "In God We Trust," an image of Lady Justice, the Emancipation Proclamation, and a copy of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. An amendment to the bill prohibits the state from funding the collection. Supporters are very confident the bill would stand up to judicial scrutiny should it pass.

Two weeks ago, state Senators Yancy McGill (R-Williamsburg) and Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley) introduced S. 1329 which would allow motorists to opt for yet another specialty license plate featuring the phrase "I Believe" and a crucifix superimposed over a stained glass window.

Apparently, the existing "In God We Trust" tag just doesn't cut the mustard.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that time runs out in the current session and these bills get stuck in legislative limbo — not because I oppose Christianity or I'm particularly irreligious, but because they're simply a bad idea. Even worse, they're discourteous.

Americans have always seen themselves as a people of the highest rectitude — we've also had the tendency to believe that the country itself is on the verge of moral collapse since the colonial days. In response, we've elected politicians who have convinced us that they embody our virtue.

We've swallowed this delusion even more eagerly since Jimmy Carter proclaimed his born-again worthiness against the tattered legacy of Richard Nixon's dark heart. It assuaged our guilt over our own participation in Nixon's corruption.

When the founders of our democratic republic came up with the separation of church and state, I don't believe they intended for a citizen's belief structure to be removed from all political considerations. However, they had personally experienced, or were within a generation or two of those who had, the problems that were created when government and religious institutions got tangled up. As a result, they worked to avoid such threats.

Somewhere along the line, Americans got rich and complacent and contented themselves with the bromides of religious right politicians. And that's our fault. We've never taken seriously the religious rhetoric spouted by our elected leaders who blather on about faith and morality while simultaneously ignoring historical evils like poverty.

Think about it, when George W. Bush was a candidate for the White House, he said that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher. He's been president for seven years, and I've never once heard anyone ask him how Jesus' admonition to "love thy neighbor" can be reconciled with his endorsement of an invasion of a sovereign nation premised upon lies.

There are too many people out there with a stake in the dysfunction of our democracy. We let this happen by not claiming responsibility or ownership for the moral values we espouse. We don't need license plates to tell us that.

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