The First Amendment of the Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In other words, the United States of America cannot constitutionally allow displays favoring one religion over another, no matter how many citizens are practicing members of one religion.
This constitutional law is currently being challenged and ignored by the school board of Giles County, Va. with their recent vote to put back a display of the Ten Commandments into every public school in the county. The reasoning given by the school board and countless other citizens of Giles County who support the display is that the Ten Commandments are in the schools to instill moral values in the school system.
But, at what cost? Should we just throw out our founding document because of personal religious views?
The people and the school board of Giles County know their display of the Ten Commandments is against the wishes and principles of our founding fathers and are circumventing the law by adding The Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Virginia Declaration of Rights, The Mayflower Compact and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom to the Ten Commandments display to pass the Constitution “mustard test” as put it the lawyer representing the county.
These additions to the display do not make it any more constitutionally acceptable or unbiased. No Hindu, Islamic or Buddhist codes of moral values were added to the display or were even considered for the display. If the goal is to instill moral values, why not add the eightfold path of Buddhism or any verse from the Quran? To just display the Ten Commandments is to discriminate against any student who does not practice Christianity, for it imposes religious views upon them, a situation that is against constitutional law.
Do not take my opposition to the display as having anything to do with my religious views. I am Catholic and attended mass often while growing up in a Christian household where the cross was on display on the mantelpiece at all times. I celebrate Christmas, Easter and am even participating in Lent to prepare myself for the celebration of Easter. But my being Christian and my being an American citizen are two very different aspects of my life. I respect and follow the Ten Commandments, but I also follow the Constitution of the United States. This makes me believe strongly that religious displays on government property are unconstitutional and a danger to every Americans’ inalienable rights including, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
We cannot pick and choose what parts of the Constitution we obey as citizens of the United States. We cannot say we’ll obey this amendment but not that one. The moment we, as Americans, do this, we begin to endanger all our rights and freedoms, for no amendment becomes safe from ignoring. The Giles County school board may believe they are helping their children by displaying the Ten Commandments in their schools, and I respect them for taking such an interest in their students’ moral well-being, but religion belongs not in our schools but in our hearts, our homes and churches and with our loved ones.