Unholy Trinity Bedevils Oklahoma
Oklahoma, you’re being hounded by the American Civil Liberties Union, American Atheists, and Satan. You must be doing something right.
Both the ACLU and American Atheists, Inc. have filed lawsuits demanding that you remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol, and you have refused. The Satanic Temple of New York wants to place a statue of Satan there, and you’ve also turned them down.
Once the Ten Commandments monument arrived on Oklahoma’s capitol grounds in 2012, it was certain, as surely as the wind blows and the Cimarron flows, that the state would be in the crosshairs of both the ACLU and atheists. But satanists?
An outfit calling itself the Satanic Temple wants to place a statue of Baphomet, an image of Satan as a man with a horned goat’s head, on the Capitol grounds. The proposed statue features the seated beast flanked by two adoring children.
The group claims that the purpose of the monument is to “complement and contrast the Ten Commandments monument.” So, whereas the ACLU and the American Atheists oppose the monument, the Satanic Temple are exploiting it as an opportunity to worm their way permanently onto the capitol grounds.
Just what do these satanists claim to believe? Their website mission statement is full of soothing platitudes, so apparently we’re supposed to re-read it until it seems true, until we forget everything bad we ever believed about the Great Deceiver and are willing to say “Yes! I would buy a used car from that horned man.”
In its fundraising appeal, the Satanic Temple refers to the statue as an “an ‘homage’ to Satan”, and twice justify their effort in the name of “religious diversity.”
Diverstiy! At the mention of ‘diversity’, we know that legions of academics, politicians, and Human Resources personnel genuflect and pay obeisance. So, when it comes to monuments planted in the public square (“public square” as I use the phrase here, refers to our government buildings and grounds) certainly the Great State of Oklahoma and everyone else ought to do a knee-jerk genuflection to “diversity,” too. Right?
Wrong. Monuments in the public square never have been about expressing diversity. If that were the case, the public square would be clogged with memorials to the Dalai Lama, Dianetics, Shiva, and Oprah. But far from expressing diversity, monuments in the public square, aside from those that are purely aesthetic, commemorate historical significance and/or champion those principles and values historically recognized as worthy of recognition by the citizenry as a whole. They remind us of things we ought not to forget.
For example, the statue of a soldier on a courthouse lawn represents the sacrifices that millions of American military personnel have made for the sake of our country. The benefits reaped by those sacrifices are universal to the citizenry. The uniformed man or woman in bronze honors living veterans and assures them that their own service is remembered, and it reminds those of us who have never taken up arms that we live in comfort and freedom only because others have done the dirty work for us. We are reminded of valor, resolve, and the cost of liberty. This simple statue of a single soldier on a courthouse lawn, contemplated in its mute eloquence, has important and timeless lessons for each of us. That is why it is there.
The motto on the Great Seal of the United States is E Pluribus Unum – “Out of many, one.” Monuments in the public square extoll values and ideals that both express and bind the American Unum. So it has been historically, and so it ought to remain.
Diversity, by contrast, is merely a content-neutral descriptor, a basket that holds a range of varied elements, conceivably including Somalians, Presbyterians, and Neo-Nazis. Diversity itself expresses no value, no virtue, and no principle, no matter how fashionable it may be within some circles to pretend that it does. Diversity has no substance, unlike the Ten Commandments, which are loaded to the gunwales with it.
The text on the Oklahoma monument begins:
The Ten Commandments.
“I Am the Lord Thy God. . .”
These words and the Ten Commandments that follow them were written well over 3,000 years ago. They are a direct affront to many modernist notions such as atheism, anti-theistic secularism, moral relativism, and self-indulgence. The Supreme Court has declared that the display of their content must be restricted.
Yet for the ancient Israelites, their descendants, and for western civilization from the time of Moses into our lifetime, the Ten Commandments were a lynchpin of cosmological understanding. Probably no other example of codified ethical principles has had such a far-reaching effect on the trajectory of human civilization. This document was a major anchor of the Founding Fathers’ conception of man’s place in the universe.
We think of the “Thou shalt. . .” injunctions primarily as a religious moral code. Yet the Ten Commandments did more than merely set boundaries on human impulse: they established that one Supreme Being directly bears upon human affairs.
All of the Founding Fathers -- Christians, deists, and theistic rationalists alike -- believed in this divine component of human affairs with such absolute conviction that it became the first line of justification for their Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men. . . are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. . .”
The image of the tablets of the Ten Commandments in the public square is a very powerful symbol. It reminds us of many things, among them:
- our equality before the law.
- our indebtedness to the Israelites for instituting the earliest known example of representative government.
- the divine source of our rights. These rights are not a human invention, nor are they an indulgence granted by governments, charters, or the UN: your rights and mine have been woven into the very fabric of the universe by the Creator.
Images of the Ten Commandments in the public square, therefore, represent an indispensable part of our historical and philosophical bedrock, the very stone that forms the foundation of individual liberty and self-government in America.
It is important to note that, in order to agree with the preceding bullet points on the significance of the Ten Commandments, it is not necessary for one to be a Christian, or a Jew, or an adherent of any religion or no religion at all. Adherence to this fountainhead of law can be embraced either religiously or philosophically.
The Ten Commandments, then, being of both religious and philosophical import, have a substantive and symbolic historical significance that is profoundly broad in scope. The Supreme Court acknowledges the significance of the document, yet prohibits display in the public square of its actual contents -- i.e., the verses -- because of their religious aspect. This is very much like saying, “You may not post a plaque about the Great Pyramid that reveals the composition of the stones.” It is the court-imposed censure of factual knowledge about our heritage.
The ACLU says of the Oklahoma display:
“We don’t think the state should place religious artifacts on state property unless the people of the entire state agree with its message. One of the concerns is that even if you allow all faiths to place something in a public area, it quickly becomes a farce.”
All that is required for such an absurdity to occur, with bastard monuments sprouting on statehouse lawns like mushrooms after rain, is to ignore and fail to defend the historically established nature of monuments in the public square. As outlined earlier, these monuments “commemorate historical significance and/or champion those principles and values historically recognized as worthy of recognition by the citizenry as a whole.”
Monuments proposed for the Oklahoma Capitol to recognize atheism, animal rights, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster fail abysmally to meet that test. On the other hand, a monument to the Ten Commandments certainly does.
The ACLU would strip any commemorative expression of our rich and vital Mosaic heritage from both the public square and our public schools, under the myopic rubric of “a wall of separation between church and state” — a Jeffersonian metaphor stripped of its original meaning for quotation in the landmark Supreme Court decision for Everson v. Board of Education (1947).
Having fashioned this “wall of separation” phrase into a spurious but effective bludgeon, the ACLU threatens the generation-to-generation transmission of fundamental knowledge about our nation’s roots. Each ACLU victory in this matter is therefore a victory for fundamental ignorance. Each time the ACLU succeeds in banishing an image of the Ten Commandments from a public school or a statehouse lawn, another light goes out and darkness spreads.
Which brings us back to the Prince of Darkness. Through his acolytes he now demands an equal place in the public square with those storied bronze soldiers and the iconic Ten Commandments.
The average citizen may reasonably ask, “Hey, Satan, what have you done for me lately? For us?”
Nothing good, that’s for sure. What reason can possibly justify giving an image of that evil, fallen angel a space in the public square alongside symbols that elicit wholesome admiration and promote values conducive to good citizenship? There is none.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for Governor Mary Fallin, has a few choice words for Satan’s groupies: “There will never be a satanic monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol and the suggestion that there might be is absurd.”
So the Devil, the ACLU, and American Atheists demand to have their way in Oklahoma. May each of them fail to reach their goals. May the State of Oklahoma prevail in its fight to insure that the Ten Commandments monument at its Capitol continues to “extoll values and ideals that both express and bind the American Unum.”
Robert Babcock writes from Lawrence, Kansas, where he ventures now and then to wrestle a few words into pleasant coherence. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.