The scene outside the Alabama Judicial Building on August 27, 2003, as the two and one-half ton Ten Commandments shrine inside was moved to a back room pursuant to federal and state judicial decrees, was certainly moving, and any witness to it, no matter how calloused, could not help feeling some sympathy for the protestors.
Judge Roy Moore, without approval of the state authorities, had, in the middle of one night in 2001 of the Common Era, secretly inserted his mammoth shrine into the courthouse rotunda, and now the obtrusion had been almost miraculously whisked away on a hydraulic machine. Profound was the rage and grief of those who bore witness. One outraged man bawled through his cupped hands that the government was not going to take his Ten Commandments away from him; a woman sobbed and moaned hysterically as if she had just lost her best friend; several prayed silently on their knees; others laid on their bellies as flat as matzas and mumbled their prayers with lips touching the concrete pavement.
It was a sorrowful sight indeed. Your Humble Author is not a Christian but he respects Christians and he sympathizes too much with almost anyone who displays emotion. Surely something can be done to stop the flow of tears, to assuage the concerns of the children of god. Why not give each child a virtually indestructible wallet-sized replica of the Ten Commandments? That would be in keeping with the intention of the ancient prescription to post the commandments that they may be known to all. And the torah says they should be discussed every day too.
As for the courthouse display, it was definitely an intrusion of Chief Justice Moore’s ego which by constant public practice he had managed to elevate over his almighty superego. The shrine was attractive enough, but it seemed to push one religion over others. Perhaps it would not have been obscene if it had been placed around the rotunda with other religious legal accouterments, such as one of Asoka’s pillars inscribed with the Four Noble Truths – the pillar could be set on a granite elephant pedestal and have a golden Buddha sitting on its capital; a block from the Wailing Wall inscribed with the Shield of David – Moses’ Two Tablets could be hidden in an ark on top; a Koran in a glass case – a page to be turned each day; for the Vaisnava’s, a lingam inserted in a yoni – the lingam might glow in the dark; a mural of Yin and Yang generating Five Elements would be nice; a replica of the tablets found by the Mormon seekers would do; an abstract painting alluding to Nothing would suffice; – perhaps the Bill of Rights; – but enough of this, we get the picture, and we do not mean to slight anyone or leave them out, including good witches and religious atheists.
I respect Christians, and I therefore find occasion to show some respect for them here. We know who fought for religious freedom in the United States and built a wall between religious cults and secular state – Christians. Why? Because they were selfish and altruistic at the same time. Christians wanted their own cults and consciences, thank you very much, and they were reasonable enough in their spiritual foolishness to see that if each were to have their own, all must be secure from political interference as long as all abided by the same laws as every other corporation.
Take Roger Williams, for instance, who coined the phrase, “the wall of separation”, who said that there must be a “hedge of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.” There was no more opinionated man than Roger Williams, for, according to him, only his religious views were correct; nonetheless, if one is to have his views he must allow others to have theirs. That did not sit well with the Puritans of Massachusetts. In 1635 Williams was banished to England. He fled to Rhode Island instead and founded Providence. He was true to his word: he tolerated even the Quakers whom he despised. Rhode Island at the time was the most tolerable colony if you wanted a wide variety of religious liberty.
We learned about religious tolerance in grammar school some years ago, we can see where we are going with this theme: on to Madison and Jefferson. We do not want to regress to the colonial days we revolted against, the days of politically established religions with Old Testament laws: death for blasphemy; flogging for disrespecting ministers; whipping for not attending church; banishment; and much more. No, ma’am, no, sir, never. And that intolerance is what the Ten Commandments Judge reminds us of.
Everyone can have their commandments, whatever they are, inscribed on their circumcised hearts as far as this author is concerned, or referred to in context as part of our good heritage; but shoved on us under cover of night? Never. Of course many of us thank Judge Moore for making such a big scene for the individual liberty that put his individuality above all others. We need that every once in awhile so we can get a reading of what is going on behind the scenes in those chambers where judges have their conventicles. It appears that several of Judge Moore’s colleagues in Alabama are conservative Christian judges, and they just said no to him after he tore up the law. Good. But it is not over until the fat lady sings, so we should keep our eyes on those conservative judges and test them again from time to time. People have a way of getting things done without flaunting their religion.