Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Self-evident does not mean founded upon the ten commandments 

The second ten commandments case the Supreme Court has agreed to hear is McCreary v American Civil Liberties Union. This case is about the same issues as Van Oden v Perry, which I wrote about in my previous post: when and how it is constitutional to display the ten commandments?

The history of the case is long but simple: three Kentucky counties placed framed copies of the ten commandments in their courthouses and schools. As the purpose of placing the displays was clearly religious in nature and thus a violation of the establishment clause, as soon as the lawsuit was filed, the counties tried to "secularize" the displays by putting up framed copies of religious excerpts from governmental documents - devoid of context. The primary purpose was still clearly religious in nature, so the District Court correctly ordered them taken down and asked the parties to the suit to work out a display that would place them in a secular context.

The counties modified the displays again, this time introducing the text of the commandments with,

The Ten Commandments have profoundly influenced the formation of Western legal thought and the formation of our country. That influence is clearly seen in the Declaration of Independence, which declared that, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." The Ten Commandments provide the moral background of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of our legal tradition.

This is plain sophistry; saying something doesn't make it so. Well, unless you're God - then you can say "Let there be light" and there will be light.

I mean please, the Declaration of Independence terms the truths to be "self-evident" which means they are a priori assumptions founded on nothing. Here is a side by side comparison in case you wish to look for the "clear" influence of the version used in the case in question, (with one piece of emphasis to note)

  • 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 underneath 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.
  • Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
  • Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  • Honour thy father and mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
  • Thou shalt not kill.
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  • Thou shalt not steal.
  • Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neigbour.
  • Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
  • When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
  • ... The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, ... To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
    • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
    • He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
    • He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
    • ... He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
    • He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
    • ... He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
    • He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions ...

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