Is showing the Ten Commandments in courts wrong?

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By BibleAsk Team


The debate over displaying the Ten Commandments in public spaces touches on legal, cultural, and religious issues. This article will explore the arguments for and against showing the Ten Commandments in courts, using references from the Bible to provide a biblical perspective.

The Ten Commandments: A Brief Overview

The Ten Commandments, given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, are found in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. They form a core part of the moral and ethical code in Judeo-Christian tradition.

Exodus 20:1-17: “And God spoke all these words, saying: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.'” (NKJV)

Arguments Against Displaying the Ten Commandments in Courts

1. Separation of Church and State

One of the primary arguments against displaying the Ten Commandments in courts is the principle of the separation of church and state. This principle is derived from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the establishment of religion by the government.

Matthew 22:21: “They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ And He said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.'” (NKJV)

Jesus’ statement here suggests a distinction between religious and civil responsibilities. Advocates for separation argue that displaying religious texts in government spaces blurs this line, potentially endorsing a particular religion.

2. Legal and Constitutional Challenges

Displaying the Ten Commandments in courts has faced legal challenges, with courts ruling in various ways on this issue. Critics argue that such displays violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Arguments in Favor of Displaying the Ten Commandments in Courts

1. Historical and Cultural Significance

Proponents argue that the Ten Commandments are not only religious texts but also foundational to the development of Western legal and moral systems. They claim that displaying them acknowledges their historical significance.

Psalm 19:7: “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” (NKJV)

The Psalmist’s affirmation of the law’s perfection and wisdom highlights its enduring value, which proponents believe is relevant to modern legal systems.

2. Moral Foundation

Supporters contend that the Ten Commandments provide a moral foundation that aligns with the principles of justice, honesty, and integrity, which are essential to the legal system.

Proverbs 6:16-19: “These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” (NKJV)

The moral imperatives found in the Ten Commandments are seen as universally applicable principles that uphold justice and righteousness.

3. Symbolic Value

For many, the Ten Commandments symbolize the broader ethical principles that undergird the legal system. Displaying them can serve as a reminder of the moral and ethical responsibilities of those who work within the judicial system.

Romans 13:1-2: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (NKJV)

Paul’s exhortation to respect governing authorities reflects an understanding that civil law operates within a moral framework, which the Ten Commandments help to articulate.

The Real Issue

Our once Christian nation hasn’t lost its way because the government seeks separation of church and state or for forbidding the government to display the Ten Commandments in courts. America lost its way because the citizens are seeking separation from God. Its not the secular government that’s leading this nation towards moral decay but it is the ungodly hearts of people that are doing that.

Some Americans are concerned about the threat of moral relativism (no moral absolutes) ruining our society. For example, euthanasia, legalizing illicit drugs, homosexual marriage, and abortion are really the fruits of people who have turned their backs to God’s Moral law. By doing away with the Ten Commandments, secular people are actually loosing their standard of morality because they are depending on the carnal mind to decide what is right and what is wrong.

On the other hand, while the last six commandments of God’s Ten Commandments are the basis of moral law in governments (Exodus 20:12-17), Christians should not use the civil powers to enforce the first 4 commandments that has to deal with man’s relationship with God (Exodus 20:1-11). Religious faith should not be forced on someone who doesn’t want it. By separating church and state, we are assured that no religious power will have the authority to force the conscience of those who might not believe in the Bible.

Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments with 2 commandments:

Matthew 22:37–39: “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (NKJV)

The Ten Commandments hang from these two commands (Exodus 20:2-17). Love to God makes keeping the first four commandments (which concern God) a pleasure, and love toward our neighbor makes keeping the last six (which concern our neighbor) a joy.

Christians in America should be more concerned about obeying the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) than by making them a mere display on the walls of their courts. God wants His children to have lives that would reflect His law, which is a reflection of His Holy character.

Ensuring religious liberty does not mean forbidding the Christian to express his faith; witnessing and sharing beliefs is a Christian duty. Christians should be using their own lives as an example to reflect the spirit of the Ten Commandments. They are to share their faith with all that would like to listen.

Biblical Perspectives on Law and Justice

1. Justice and Fairness

The Bible places a strong emphasis on justice and fairness, which are core principles in any legal system.

Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NKJV)

The call to act justly and love mercy aligns with the ethical teachings of the Ten Commandments and the broader biblical narrative.

2. Wisdom and Understanding

The Bible also values wisdom and understanding, qualities essential for judges and legal practitioners.

Proverbs 2:6-9: “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path.” (NKJV)

This passage emphasizes the divine origin of wisdom and its application to justice and righteousness, underscoring the role of moral principles in guiding legal decisions.

3. Accountability

The Bible teaches that leaders and judges are accountable to God for their actions, which implies a higher standard of moral responsibility.

2 Chronicles 19:6-7: “And said to the judges, ‘Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment. Now therefore, let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes.'” (NKJV)

Jehoshaphat’s charge to the judges emphasizes their divine accountability, which aligns with the ethical teachings found in the Ten Commandments.

Conclusion

The question of whether displaying the Ten Commandments in courts is appropriate involves balancing legal principles, cultural values, and religious beliefs. From a biblical perspective, the Ten Commandments represent foundational moral and ethical principles that have shaped Western legal systems and continue to hold significant moral value.

Arguments against displaying the Ten Commandments include concerns about the separation of church and state and legal challenges. These arguments emphasize the importance of maintaining a neutral public space that respects the diverse beliefs of all citizens.

Arguments in favor highlight the historical, cultural, and moral significance of the Ten Commandments, suggesting that their display acknowledges the ethical foundations of the legal system and serves as a symbolic reminder of the principles of justice, honesty, and integrity.

Ultimately the Biblical goal is not to hang the Ten Commandments merely on walls of buildings but in the hearts of the people (Hebrews 10:16) so that it reflect on their actions.

Check out the Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics. 

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

Categories Law

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