Ten Commandments plus 1st Amendment could add up to a graven image

Sean Murphy/AP - In this Nov. 16, 2012, file photo, a Ten Commandments monument erected outside the Oklahoma state Capitol is shown in Oklahoma City.

Just what every town needs: a seven-foot satanic statue.

Believe it or not, Oklahoma received a proposal last week from the New York-based Satanic Temple for just such a figure to be placed near the state Capitol. The monument depicts Baphomet, a goat-headed pagan idol, sitting on a throne inscribed with an inverted pentagram.

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According to a spokesman for the temple, “The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation.”

The homage to the Prince of Darkness comes in response to the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol in 2012. Beelzebub’s boosters say that if the government can place an overtly Judeo-Christian monument on its property, then to avoid running afoul of the Constitution, it must accept monuments from other faiths.

The Satanists might have a point.

Steven Waldman, author of “Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty,” told me, “This [satanic statue] is the inevitable outcome of what religious conservatives set in motion” with their efforts to bring more religion into the public square.

He added, “As James Madison said, even government efforts to help religion will backfire and hurt religion.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing in Oklahoma state courts to have the Ten Commandments monument removed, makes a similar argument.

Brady Henderson, an official of the Oklahoma ACLU, pointed to Florida as a cautionary tale. The placement of a Nativity scene on the state Capitol grounds led to a free-for-all.

Henderson told me: “To get around the First Amendment problems, they had to let other groups in. So next to the creche was a Festivus pole and Flying Spaghetti Monster. We don’t want our state to become [like that]. Here is something with thousands of years of tradition next to a joke from Seinfeld, and the government is presenting them as equals. That cheapens a lot of people’s faith. The only one who is happy is the one who wants to make a mockery of religion.”

True enough. After word spread of the Satanists’ goat-headed gambit, the Oklahoma government received an inquiry from the “Pastafarians,” who worship at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Even if the Oklahoma court determines that placement of the Ten Commandments on public property is legal, that wouldn’t make it wise.

While the Founding Fathers mostly saw religion as positive for society, they also believed that government should not play favorites among faiths. The ACLU complains that, in addition to endorsing the Christian faith, the Oklahoma government has chosen to use “an English translation of the Ten Commandments inconsistent with those officially adopted by the Catholic Church and within Orthodox Judaism, generally conforming more closely to particular Protestant interpretations of the text.”

It seems that if Oklahoma Christians want to imbue society with their values, there are better ways to do it that respect the pluralistic nature of our society. Perhaps they should just focus on living out the Ten Commandments and ditch the monuments.

— Religion News Service

Kirsten Powers writes weekly for USA Today and is a Fox News political analyst.

 
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