The Skeptic's Guide to The Universe

Friday, October 22, 2010

Chapter Six; HOW THE 10 COMMANDMENTS CAME TO OKLAHOMA part twenty three

On May 18, 2009 Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry signed HB 1330 which allows for the state to put on a privately funded monument of the 10 Commandments on the statehouse grounds. This bill was passed overwhelming by both houses of the Oklahoma statehouse. In the Senate there were twenty state senators that sponsored the bill and in the house ten sponsors were found.
On May 28, 2009 after Gov. Henry signed the bill into law. Jim Huff with Americans United for the separation of church and state-Oklahoma spoke at a meeting in my town of Ponca City, Oklahoma. The meeting was organized by the Kay County Democrats and held at a local church. About 50 or so people attended the lecture and Mr. Huff helped to explain what this means for Oklahoma and what some of the repercussion might be.
Huff went through several steps of the history of religious freedom and the Constitution of the United States and the Oklahoma State Constitution. He made a point of highlighting the pertinent facts pertaining to the issue of the separation of religion from the secular government.
First he referred to to Article six of the Constitution where no religious test would be required for any public office or trust. This is the only part in the actual Constitution that mentions anything about religion and it is clearly a prohibition of using religion for a standard to hold public office.
Then second he went over Article I of the Bill of Rights about not establishing a religion or prohibiting the free exercise of. He went on to explain this is the area that SCOTUS had found in 1947 by Justice Hugo Black about the establishment clause. Wrapping up with the US Constitution was Amendment XIV, which basically places state laws subservient to Federal law.
Finally in the Oklahoma Constitution section 11-5, “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”
This part of the Oklahoma Constitution in itself should be clear enough to have the Oklahoma state legislators fail to take actions on this bill. They had acted in direct violation of the Constitution they had took and oath to support and defend.
As the federal law in this district of the Federal Courts there is a case that has been awaiting a ruling with a similar monument on Haskell County courthouse grounds in Stigler, Oklahoma. This case has been heard by the Federal Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado and the ruling was made June 8, 2009.
Both the Haskell County 10 Commandments and the 10 Commandments at the Oklahoma Statehouse are paid for by private donations.
As of June 8, 2009 the United States District 10 Court of Appeals ruled that the Haskell County 10 Commandments which is part of a historical display, "has the primary effect of endorsing religion" when taken in context with the small community of Stigler, Okla. They ruled the display unconstitutional.
According to the Norman Transcript; "Whoever was the judge in this, I feel sorry for him on Judgment Day," said Haskell County Commissioner Mitch Worsham, who represents the county where the courthouse and monument is located. "We're not going to take it down."
The three judge federal court decided unanimously that the way the display was erected, supported and dedicated all indicated that the monument was design to promote Christianity. One county commissioner said at the time of the dedication, "That's what we're trying to live by, that right there. The good Lord died for me."
This decision moves the case back “to Muskogee, Okla.-based U.S. District Judge Ronald A. White so he can issue a new ruling consistent with the District 10 ruling. In August 2006, White rejected arguments that the monument promotes Christianity at the expense of other religions.”
Several times people at the meeting with Huff it was asked what is wrong with the 10 Commandments? I guess they meant what is wrong about having them on the statehouse ground? At least that is how those of us that responded to a women's questions took them to mean.
The comment I made on a forum about the June 8, 2009 ruling on the 10 Commandments can answer that question as well as anything for me, “What purpose does such an idea as, " No other Gods but me" have in a pluralistic society? What is the purpose of "Make no Graven Images"? Who will be the moderator to determine when a mother of father is or is not "honored"? What will happen to our system of economy is no one desire the things that they do not already possess? What would be the penalty of violation of these commandments? There is nothing good or worthwhile to consider in the 10 Commandments. It is not as if prior to them being made into a compilation that the idea had not existed before in human society.
On these same forum there are those that try to defend the ideas and concepts of the 10 Commandment and inadvertently they will reply with answer such as, “do not lie, do not kill, do not steal. Yeah, what good are those commandments.
To this I have several points to make. The first being that no one argues the value of respecting personal space and property and honestly is indeed a virtue that one should encourage. Second, the most common examples supporters of the 10 Commandments cite are not the first four but the ones that deal with human to human interaction. Additionally, as far as the human to human commandments, there is not need to extol these values as some religious expression. Society doesn't function if murder, stealing, infidelity, disrespect and lying are rampant. There are plenty of examples in the animal kingdom that show these virtues as being helpful without the presence of any divine in their mists. Concerning the last two or one commandments, depending on your version, to covet an item or idea is the very basis of human endeavor and our driving force for almost everything in history.
How would the Egyptians build the great works of their civilization with out a desire to have more than what they had before? How would the discovery of the Americas have happen if there wasn't a desire for trade and to spread religion. Where would any religion be if there wasn't a desire to have others join in their belief system. So ever adherent that wants others to follow their belief is guilty of coveting the souls of those that are not currently following what said adherent believes.
Odd bit it is that the ones that most want to have the secular government place the 10 Commandments on state property are guilty of violating at least one if not two of the very commandments that they so extol. Not too mention that the very item itself is a “graven” image.
Another comment mentioned several times at the seminar was that America was founded as a Christian nation. Our nation was not founded as a Christian nation it was founded as a secular nation. The people were given the freedom to select according to their conscience what they choose to believe about the supernatural or to hold any belief in it at all without it having affect upon them as citizens of The United States of America.
People that believe that the 10 Commandments should be placed on public property and other state endorsed religious actions should be taken by our government are a disgrace to the principles to which this nation was founded. The very ideas of liberty and justice and freedom for all are as foreign to them as the people of Nepal are to me. I know they exist but I have little idea about what they do.
Keep in mind it was the Founding Fathers that put Article VI in The Constitution of The United States and ratified Amendment I [June 9, 1789] and ratified the Treaty of Tripoli in June 7, 1797 which states that The United States is not a a Christian nation.
To this, I would say that the 10 commandments represent a religion and are in violation of both the Oklahoma and United States constitutions. As an atheist, if people want to paste the 10 Commandments on private property, please feel free but please obey the laws and keep religion out of the secular government.
I contacted my local state Representative, Senator and the Oklahoma Governor to express my view to not have the bill passed prior, to the passage by each group. In addition, I tried to get as many like minded people to contact their local state representatives as well. I was told by my State Representative that he would not vote for the bill. However when the bill was voted on he did indeed vote for the bill. House Bill 1330 did pass the Oklahoma House of Representatives by a vote of 83-2. A clear showing of the power of the religiously minded in my state.
Calling my representative, of course, was to no avail. What can you say about a state that tried to get Richard Dawkins banned from giving a lecture as a guest of the Zoology Department of the University of Oklahoma, June 6, 2009.
On the grounds of the Capitol of Texas, SCOTUS upheld the right of Texas to have the 10 Commandments displayed. I have viewed this monument and it is placed very close to the statehouse along with more than twenty other monuments including ones to Texas school children, Lady Bird Johnson, Civil War veterans, and a memorial to the men of the Alamo. SCOTUS said that since the 10 Commandments were part of a larger display that the meaning of them purely as a religious expression was not establishing a state religion.
What this shows people that care about individual freedom and protecting The Constitution is that the radical religious right is trying hard to make this a monotheistic country. Often have I heard people say this is a “Christian Nation.” it seems to me that this is a recent cultural phenomenon as this idea would be perverse in the first part of our nation's history. Too be honest it seems to only be prevalent since the mid-eighties.
I often try to educate people about the Treaty of Tripoli that was ratified by the United States Senate on June 7, 1797 during the period that most of our Founding Fathers were still very much involved in the early nation.
Here is the part of the treaty that deals with this issue:
"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity,(sic) of Musselmen;(sic) and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan (sic) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."
This is also referenced in the Marine Corps Hymn when it refers to, “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”
Most of the adherents to religion do not want to hear these factual citation of our nations history or other examples of how the Pledge of Allegiance was written without the phrase “under God” in it or how “In God We Trust” was added to our currency in 1957. If you read this link from the Federal Reserve, it leaves no doubt whatsoever that the purpose was directly related to Christianity. To most Christian adherents, the very idea of having religion in the public forum is not only right but is a right they have as Christians, not so much as Americans.
Fundamentalists cite examples of how when prayer was taken out of public schools in 1963, test scores and behavior problems began to be adversely affected. But they fail to point out that the issues they are talking about were on the rise prior to these actions being taken by SCOTUS. One could use any historical point of reference to show a cause and effect relationship. One could just as easily say that after evangelist Billy Graham gain national prominence that the test scores of American children began to decline. One could say after the space program began the rate of juvenile delinquency increased. Such examples fail to establish a cause and effect relationship for their claims, but it surely can be said.

“One might just as well credit the lack of prayer with the great advances that have taken place since the 1962 and 1963 decisions on prayer. Look at the leap in civil liberties, equality, environmental awareness, women's rights, science, technology and medicine! The polio scare is over. Fountains, buses, schools are no longer segregated by law. We've made great strides in medical treatment. We have VCRs (DVDs, BlueRay, etc) and the computer chip. The Cold War has ended! Who would turn the clock back?”

Any of the following events could be assigned a similar cause and effect relation that the advocates of school prayer propose for the alleged decline in school behavior and test score.

• Pope John XXIII dies; Pope Paul VI is elected
• 250,000 Americans march for Civil Rights in Washington
• Kennedy assassinated in Dallas
• Lee Harvey Oswald arrested
• Lyndon Johnson takes Presidential Oath of Office
• Soviet missiles stay out of Cuba; Troops will stay
• N.Y. newspaper's labor strike for 114 days
• Supreme Court decides poor must have lawyers
• Kennedy sends troops to calm Alabama civil unrest
• Soviet Union puts first women in space
• Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech

All these events happened in 1963 and have as much bearing upon the changes in public school test scores and behavior problems as any decision by SCOTUS. I will show some of the alleged cause and effect relationships that the public school prayer advocates cite in their arguments for public school prayer.
Teenage pregnancy rates have gone up 500% since 1962. Unmarried mothers have risen dramatically since 1962. [The divorce Rate is so high that many young children don't really understand what a family is.](sic) Violent Crimes have risen steadily since the early 60's, and our prison system is bursting at the seams.(with born again Christians) The SAT scores have steadily declined each year for 18 straight years since 1962 and continue to decline or be low. (Wouldn't that be more than 18 years? That just takes us to 1980. I am sure the writer of this could have updated it to at least 1994 or so.) We once had the best school system in the world, and we are now ranked about 15th among the industrialized nations. This is despite us spending more money then any other nation in the world on our school system.i

None of these statistics are cited or supported by any references though they are expressed as being facts. While I certainly make assumptions of data and reports I have heard over time, these are not statistics listed with verifiable data. I have looked for information to support this 600% increase from several sources including the US Census Department and the Center for Disease Control. Never has a listing for anything on line that would support the 600% increase over any period of time has been found to date. As far as the United States being ranked 15th among industrialized nations. The last report done was by the Organization for Cooperation released September 2005 which ranked the United States 9th with persons 25 to 34 with a high school degree and 7th for persons 25 to 35 with college degrees. Again it is easy to make up any sort of numbers or statements that you wish but if you really want to be believed, show your work, just like in math class. The best way to deal with a number quoting person is to simply say, “prove it.” I will say that I have recently heard some new numbers as our ranks in the world but I would have to look deeper into that as the cause. I surely cannot find the removal of prayer as a strong contender for this drop.
The rise of the great evangelical crusaders and movements that began in the 1950s and 1960s led by such people and continued by people as Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Marilyn Hickey, Bill Gothard, Pat Roberts, Joyce Meyers, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Earnest Angely, Jimmy Swaggart, Peter Popoff, Jim and Tammy Fay Baker, and many many more can be used to show the same cause and effect relationship that is asserted that the issues with schools was caused and is caused by these people.
The issue with the advocates of public school prayer, they fail to make a cause and effect relationship and without that they only have anecdotal arguments. Maybe they will do some actual research and find that there are many other factors that contribute to the recent decline in standardized test scores. The first one I would look at is the failure of the parents demanding higher account ability in the schools. This seems to me a much more reasonable factor other than a one minute mantra recited by rote at the beginning of the school day.

Coming Next Time:
 Chapter Seven;
HUMANS IN THE MIST part twenty five

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