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Prohibitions on Display of the Ten Commandments
Damage to Religious Tolerance
Argument for Posting Based on False Premises
Ten Commandments Controversies

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Civil Rights  
The Ten Commandments Controversy:
A First Amendment Perspective

(revised 2005) RULE
Argument for Posting Based on False Premises

Posted: July 19, 2005

Naturally, in times of crisis, people look to religion for answers. In the wake of the tragedy at Columbine High School, for example, an outcry arose across the country calling for a return to the moral values embodied in our nation's great religions. Many commentators have suggested that those murders took place because our schools and more broadly, our nation no longer value the teachings that so many of our religions share: a belief in God, a dedication to prayer and knowledge of the Bible. They argue that if public schools taught these universal values, and if the government affirmed them through legislation, horrific acts such as the Columbine murders would never have taken place.

Many of those promoting government advocacy of religious values have focused their efforts on state-sponsored posting of the Ten Commandments in public places. In 2005, prior to the Supreme Court decisions, Indiana, Mississippi and South Dakota had laws authorizing the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools or on public property. Furthermore, at least nine states had introduced legislation that would allow -- or even require -- the Ten Commandments to be posted in public schools, courts, government buildings and other public places. More legislative initiatives may follow the Court's rulings.

Supporters of government-sponsored posting of the Ten Commandments often base their arguments on false premises. First, they claim that, because of separation of church and state, "it is illegal to pray in schools" and God is not allowed in the public schools. While the First Amendment prohibits organized or coercive prayer in public schools, it protects the right of every student to engage in private personal prayer while on campus. Further, to suggest that God is somehow banned from the lives of public school students and teachers is both logically and theologically ridiculous.

Second, many critics of separation of church and state maintain that Americans no longer take religion as seriously as they used to. In fact, there is little evidence to suggest that religious observance is on the decline in the United States. Indeed, many studies suggest that America is one of the most religious countries in the industrial world.

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2005 Anti-Defamation League