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The Challenge
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law

December 2003, vol. 14, no. 2

Obiter dictum

Do not use the Ten Commandments in vain

Perhaps soon to be old news, the Alabama Supreme Court's recent run-in with the Ten Commandments is really not about what we read in the headlines. Billed as a confrontation between church and state, it is instead a confrontation between one man, who campaigned on a "Ten Commandments" platform to be elected state chief justice, and his state and the federal government.

The confrontation was, of course, entirely engineered by, and served the purposes of, this one man. At the beginning of his term, he had the Ten Commandments monument moved into the Alabama Supreme Court building during the night. A legal battle followed, as he must have hoped it would. Even better, for his purposes, he lost. This allowed him to appear on TV defying the federal courts, which is certain to be popular in Alabama.

Let us not be used. For Christians (or Jews), must the Ten Commandments be forced into a public place over the objections of others? Will this attract them to Christianity? Didn't Jesus recognize Caesar's legitimate authority? For non-Christians, is it not obvious that this is a controversy manufactured to serve one man's ambition rather than to serve Christianity?

Surely there are more important things to occupy us than a hunk of granite. Even though we can't look at the original Ten Commandments any more, they still survive. And if they sit in a courthouse, but no one believes, who cares? We are so far apart on so many things, can't we at least fight over something that matters?


John Rearden is a partner in the law firm of Oliver, Close, Worden, Winkler & Greenwald in Rockford. He practices in the area of employment law.