Is the United States Based On the Ten Commandments?
In 2015, the Arkansas state legislature passed a bill to install a Ten Commandments monument on the State Capital grounds. The bill even included a provision that allows the state to state to spend taxpayer money to hire a specifically hand-picked religious-right legal group when the legality of the monument is challenged. Because it will be challenged.
What a win-win for the religious right! Either the monument clutters the Capital Grounds until it is misinterpreted as some kind of tradition, or a private, partisan organization devoted to establishing theocracy gets handed a tens of thousands of Arkansans’ tax dollars! Double-ransom!
The underlying claim behind this legislation is that “the moral foundation of the laws and legal system” of the United States government was founded or in some way based on aspects of religion, such as the Ten Commandments. This claim has been debunked and debunked and debunked some more.
However, the many debunkings based on history, law, and quotes from the founders seem not to be taking hold among some people, so let’s imagine what our government would look like if it was, in fact, based on the Ten Commandments.
First, the Constitution of the United States of Theocracy would at least mention God, Yahweh, Jesus, or so on. After all, it is hard to imagine how a Constitution could be based on a religion without even mentioning it.
In reality, “the people” are mentioned dozens of times, while the words “religion” or “religious” are only used to ban “religious tests” from being used to disqualify people from office. The only other mention came in the First Amendment to the Constitution, in the Bill of Rights, to ban the establishment of an official religion. So in our imaginary world, these statements would not be in the Constitution.
The focus of the Constitution would be on a particular god, rather than “the people.” And surely references to the specific religion or some iteration of it would be sprinkled throughout the Constitution, along with the deity supposedly directing this theocracy.
Second, religious dissent would be banned. It says so in the first couple of commandments of those ten or eleven listed in the Arkansas statute:
“Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me…”
There would be one national religious denomination authorized by government, and presumably all others would be outlawed. Federal agents would raid houses where people were suspected of worshiping in a different way. Imagine prisons filled with perfectly moral people of different religious sects – including but not limited to various versions of Christianity!
We also see that artwork, including “any likeness of any thing” on earth or in heaven would probably be prohibited in this imaginary constitutional theocracy. So much for our art schools and museums – they’d be illegal.
Third, the Ten Commandments-based constitution would outlaw “tak[ing] the name of the Lord thy God in vain”. This would be a serious federal crime in our alternative-universe America, although it is unclear if the command would be interpreted as forbidding the word “god damn” or comparing oneself to god.
Most Christians in our reality seem to follow the former interpretation, but the language as legally interpreted in courts might support the latter.
Fourth, attendance at the government church would be mandatory, and working on the Sabbath would be banned. The law might force everyone to live like Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox community, or some similar interpretation, depending how political battles over the definition of “work” and “holy” turned out.
Fifth, it is unclear how exactly a government would enforce the commandment to “Honor thy father and thy mother”. Would parents sue their children for damages? Would people file copies of their Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards with their taxes? The government would have to do something if it was based on all ten of the commandments, right?
Killing, stealing, and perjury would be illegal in the United States of Theocracy just as they are in our reality. These activities would also remain illegal in majority-Muslim countries, majority-Hindu countries, and majority-atheist countries. How could that be? Because it’s the bare minimum of governance, that’s why. There’s no religious reason for these things; the purpose is entirely practical.
However, in the United States of Theocracy, the FBI would investigate accusations of adultery. To imagine the penalties, look to Iran, Saudi Arabia, or the areas controlled by the Islamic State. If that comparison sounds unfair to you, please read Leviticus 20:10. It requires the death penalty for such cases, so, yes, a United States of Theocracy would closely resemble today’s actual theocracies.
The last commandment or commandments, depending on interpretation, are thought crimes:
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.
It is unclear how law enforcement could prove any of this, or what distinguishes coveting from needing or merely wanting. For example, if I look at a car on a new car lot and I’m willing pay thousands of dollars to get it, am I by definition coveting it? So much for capitalism!
Finally, the “manservant” and “maidservant” are slaves. A United States of Theocracy could never have outlawed slavery. That’s because the Bible is full of support and rules for slave owning. Although fellow Hebrews could be bought and sold as indentured servants or future brides, there are few protections in the Bible for non-Hebrews. Consider the brutality of Leviticus 25:44-46, or the sexual slavery of Deuteronomy 21:11-14, Numbers 31:9-11, or Numbers 31:32-35.
Lucky for us, we don’t live in this theocratic nightmare. Instead of ten commandments, our Constitution has ten amendments called the Bill of Rights – which are restrictions on the government instead of individuals. In that juxtaposition, freethinkers can see the bold conviction of the rebels who fought a Christian king to establish secular government.
About The Author
Chris is a former president of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, a toddler daddy, and a husband. He’s studied Psychology, Philosophy, and business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.