The Ten Commandments in America

Kerby Anderson

Kerby Anderson is the president of Probe Ministries International. He received his B.S. from Oregon State University, M.F.S. from Yale University, and M.A. from Georgetown University. He is the author of several books, including Genetic Engineering, Origin Science, Living Ethically in the 90s, Signs of Warning, Signs of Hope, and Moral Dilemmas. He also served as general editor for Marriage, Family and Sexuality.

He is a nationally syndicated columnist whose editorials have appeared in the Dallas Morning News, the Miami Herald, the San Jose Mercury, and the Houston Post.

He is the host of "Probe," and frequently serves as guest host on "Point of View" (USA Radio Network).

This summer has provided two key flashpoints on the political horizon that will no doubt impact Congress and the 2004 elections. The first was the Supreme Court decision on homosexual sodomy. The second was the decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals against Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore placing his Ten Commandments monument in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building.

The case provided a flashpoint to educate and motivate the public. No longer would the American people be ignorant and apathetic about this latest skirmish in the battle for religious liberty.

This case or one like it will most likely make its way to the Supreme Court since there are conflicting rulings. A Federal District Court judge in Lexington, Kentucky ruled that a display of the Ten Commandments with other historical documents is constitutional. A federal judge in Austin, Texas ruled last year that a 42-year-old display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state Capitol building did not have to be removed. And last week, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a plaque of the Ten Commandments could be displayed in the county court house of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled against the posting of the Ten Commandments in the public schools in the case of Stone v. Graham. They ruled that the "preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature." While it is possible that the justices might rule against these displays, the circumstances are different from the 1980 case dealing with the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms. These are public displays in public places.

Whatever the ruling, it would be well to remind ourselves of the influence of the Ten Commandments on our republic. For example, twelve of the original thirteen colonies incorporated the entire Ten Commandments into their civil and criminal codes.{1}

John Quincy Adams stated, "The law given from Sinai was a civil and municipal [code] as well as a moral and religious code. These are laws essential to the existence of men in society and most of which have been enacted by every nation which ever professed any code of laws." He added that "Vain indeed would be the search among the writings of [secular history] . . . to find so broad, so complete and so solid a basis of morality as this decalogue lays down."{2}

On September 19, 1796, in his Farewell Address, President George Washington said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports."{3}

William Holmes McGuffey, considered the "Schoolmaster of the Nation," once said, "The Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus are not only basic but plenary."{4}

It is more than just a little ironic that the Supreme Court that ruled against posting the Ten Commandments in public places actually has its own display of the Ten Commandments. Engraved in the stone above the head of the Chief Justice are the Ten Commandments with the great America eagle protecting them. Moses is included among the great lawgivers in the sculpture relief on the east portico. And sessions begin with the invocation, "God save the United States and this honorable court."

Until the Supreme Court rules on one of these cases, what can Christians do? First, we should be in prayer about this important issue and other key flashpoints. In the next year, the Supreme Court could rule on cases involving the Ten Commandments, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the definition of marriage.

Second, we should express our opinions by talking to friends, writing a letter to the editor, and educating people around us about the importance of the Ten Commandments in America.

Third, we should encourage Congress to pass the Ten Commandments Defense Act of 2003 (HR 2045) sponsored by Representative Rob Aderholt. The bill declares that the display of the Ten Commandments on state property is within the powers the U.S. Constitution reserves to the states in the Tenth Amendment.

Justices who use their power to remove the Ten Commandments should have their power removed from them. Passing this bill will accomplish that purpose.

  1. Matthew Staver, "The Ten Commandments Battle Continues To Gain Steam,"National Liberty Journal, December 2001.
  2. John Quincy Adams, Letters of John Quincy Adams, to His Son, on the Bible and Its Teachings (Auburn: James M. Alden, 1850), 61.
  3. George Washington, Farewell Address (Philadelphia), September 17, 1796.
  4. William Holmes McGuffey, Eclectic Reader in D. James Kennedy, "What's Happening to American Education" in Robert Flood, The Rebirth of America (Philadelphia: Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation, 1986), 122.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to reclaim the primacy of Christian thought and values in Western culture through media, education, and literature. In seeking to accomplish this mission, Probe provides perspective on the integration of the academic disciplines and historic Christianity.

In addition, Probe acts as a clearing house, communicating the results of its research to the church and society at large.

Further information about Probe's materials and ministry may be obtained by writing to:

Probe Ministries
1900 Firman Drive, Suite 100
Richardson, TX 75081
(972) 480-0240 FAX (972) 644-9664
Copyright (C) 1996-2003 Probe Ministries

© 2003 Probe Ministries International