Tuesday, June 05, 2012


When First We Practice to Deceive

I hang my head in shame for missing this story.

The Giles County (Virginia) School Board has, for the sixth time, changed its policy on the hanging of the Ten Commandments in its public schools.

A while back, I saw that the Federal judge in the case had suggested that the school board might consider removing the first four (explicitly religious) of the Ten Commandments (Protestant version) as a way of settling the lawsuit and had meant to comment on it but never got around to it. The suggestion wasn't as crazy as it sounds, since the Supreme Court, in Stone v. Graham, a 1980 decision concerning a Kentucky statute requiring the posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments (purchased with private contributions) on the wall of each public school classroom in the State, stated:
The preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact. The Commandments do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters, such as honoring one's parents, killing or murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, and covetousness. ... Rather, the first part of the Commandments concerns the religious duties of believers: worshipping the Lord God alone, avoiding idolatry, not using the Lord's name in vain, and observing the Sabbath Day.
Thus, posting the rest ... Thou shalt not kill ... Thou shalt not steal ... Thou shalt not bugger your neighbor's wife (or however they go) ... might meet constitutional muster. Personally, I don't think so, because it would be hard to disassociate the rest from the original ten in any meaningful way. I mean ... "The Six Suggestions"? Don't off anybody? Don't crib from another dude's crib? Don't snuggle with somebody's significant other?

Anyway, the above page from a Prentice Hall U.S. History textbook is what they are going to substitute for the "real" thing.

And there is no doubt why.

As far back as March 15, 2012, as the board was piling on more and more "historical documents" in hopes of somehow drowning out the clear religious meaning of the display, they began to recognize that they were succeeding ... just not in the way they intended:
Dr. Webb stated that "where is enough enough?" "A little over a year ago we had two documents up in our school. This summer, we decided to hang 11 or 12 more framed documents up in our schools and if my math is correct, we have some 18 more frames to be hung. In my mind, we are trying to cover up the main reason we want these documents up on the wall.
Yeah, we ... meaning any and all rational human beings ... know the main reason you did this: to use taxpayer money and the power of government to proselytize your religion. But how's it working out?
I don't know of many people who are going to take the time ... Maybe 5% of the school population will even see these in a days' time where they are posted ... It seems like it's defeating the purpose of even wanting this document up in the first place ... If 12 are good enough, I don't think adding 18 more is going to make it that much better ... Mrs. McMahon stated that "it seemed to her that the purpose of this was that the documents would be read and understood by the students, but you are talking about 30 of these large documents that are taking up a lot of space. I believe in all of these documents, but I think hanging them in our schools will not necessarily cause the students to read and understand these.
Now to the fig leaf. "Bobby" Lily, who kicked off the latest round of trouble for the school board, has apparently been hanging around the courthouse to admire his work:
Bobby Lilly spoke to the board about the continuing dialogue concerning the foundations of law and government display... One of the things that he discovered since the hearing in Roanoke the other day is there's an exhibit in the court file (copies provided). It is page 74, which is captioned "The Roots of Democracy," out of the United States History textbook, Virginia edition, by Prentice Hall, that is currently in use with the 11th grade classes at the high school. He said the page seemed to address several of the concerns and thoughts that have been raised during the discussion the last several weeks. It does reference two specific enlightenment philosophers (John Locke and Baron de Montesquieu) both of whom he believes were mentioned in the discussions at court as people who were conspicuously absent from the original display whose thoughts on natural rights and balance and power were important factors. It also includes a reference to the Greco-Roman roots with a depiction of Lady Justice blindfolded, as in the original display of 11 documents. It has a reference to the Ten Commandments with a graphic in the upper right hand corner and an explanation of their relevance. It goes on to mention the English Parliamentary traditions and in the middle of the page there is a depiction of the American bald eagle and an outline of the United States with the stars and stripes superimposed on it. This representation (specifically the Ten Commandments) addresses an issue which has gotten a lot of talk the last few days, specifically whether or not we should consider displaying the Ten Commandments in a way that omits some and includes others. The graphic on this page is interesting because it shows a drawing of the tablets and references what the Ten Commandments are without having to specifically quote any of the language which some people find to be objectionable. Mr. Lilly's proposal to the board was to substitute this page from the textbook for the current document captioned as the Ten Commandments.
In other words, the school board can endorse the Ten Commandments without actually quoting it. Neato! It might even work.

But nothing is perfect:
Mrs. McMahon said ... it seems like it would be a better presentation if we would remove the little critical thinking area ...


Well, the "Critical Thinking" block, while appropriate for a textbook, does rather spoil it as a poster.

But what, if anything, did the Bible contribute to American political thought?
what, if anything, did the Bible contribute to American political thought?

Why, that well-known American political principle that politicians shouldn't lie, silly!
I'm sorry, but I can't say "Ten Commandments" and "democracy" with a single breath. I can't, because somewhere in the middle of the sentence my jaw drops to the floor and I gasp out all the air I had to finish with.
I suppose that I will be exposed as an antichrist if I draw attention to the commandment that speaks of my neighbor's possessions: his cattle, slaves and wives.
What, if anything, did the Bible contribute to American political thought?

Not sure about the role of the bible in 18th c American political thought, but the bible was deeply influential in American political thought when it came to the issue of slavery.

Those whose wealth was mainly bound up in the slave system (worth billions in our dollars) read the bible literally, in defense of slavery. Those who read the bible as more of a broad-arc liberation narrative argued that it went against slavery. But these conflicting interpretations of the bible played a huge role in the years leading up to the Civil War and you can still see the split in Southern-influenced churches (tending to be more literalist) and Northeastern influenced churches (tending to be more liberationist/progressive) to this day. And the clergy played no small role in using the bible for warmongering in the years leading up to the war.

If anyone is interested, the historian Harry Stout, Upon the Altar of the Nation addresses this.

-- pew sitter
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