Church and state, cont'd

Ruling stands: God handed down Ten Commandments, but local governments must not.

May 30, 2001

GOD gave to Moses on Mount Sinai two stone tablets containing 10 laws, a covenant with the people. It said:

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

2. Thou shalt not make any graven image, or worship any idol.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

4. Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it.

5. Honor thy father and thy mother.

6. Thou shalt not kill.

7. Neither shalt thou commit adultery.

8. Neither shalt thou steal.

9. Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbor.

10. Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbor's wife, house, field, manservant, maidservant, donkey, or anything that is thy neighbor's.

These are the Ten Commandments. They appear in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, a bedrock of Judeo-Christian-Islamic religion and ethics.

The commandments are not numbered in the Bible. Its versions are not identical. Translations differ. Denominations holding the Ten Commandments sacred differ on their expression.

What is printed here is from the King James translation of the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 5, verses 7 through 21, considerably shortened and paraphrased at one point. The numbering follows most Protestant, not Catholic, tradition. The translation was under Christian, not Jewish, auspices. No reader is required to believe that this publication got it right.

These commandments are published here because of The Sun's belief in their truth and that reading them should be good for anybody. No one has to read them.

The right to publish them is conferred by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."

What words in the Constitution mean is debated as much as those in the Bible. This amendment is interpreted by courts to mean that no level of government may establish religion.

So the very amendment granting The Sun the right to publish these commandments also denies to the city of Elkhart, Ind., the power to impose them.

So found the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday, when only three of its nine members -- not the required four -- sought to review a lower court ruling that Elkhart must dismantle a granite marker, erected on a municipal lawn in 1958, containing the Ten Commandments. The ruling stands. The marker must come down.

Publishing the Ten Commandments here does not rebuke the courts. Anything but. It is an affirmation of the distinction their rulings make between private rights and government powers.

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