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Private and Public Morality

Ronald W. Wolf

June 06, 2002

It's odd that the ACLU and ACLJ have acronyms with such similar initials, considering they are opposites.

The ACLU is the American Civil Liberties Union, and they aim to preserve the Constitution and the Bill of Rights - to protect your rights.

The ACLJ is the American Center for Law and Justice, and they want to protect your rights too. But they define rights as the rights of those who want religious liberty and the rights of the unborn. They claim to protect the Constitution as well.

Both groups may come to the City of Frederick regarding the Ten Commandments in Memorial Grounds Park. The ACLU threatens to bring suit if the Ten Commandments aren't removed from city property, and the ACLJ says they'll help pay to fight the ACLU and maybe, if the Ten Commandments are removed, file a lawsuit to have them put back.

The issue of separation of church and state and the placement of religious icons, such as the Ten Commandments on public property, has been tested in the courts before. In most cases, the Ten Commandments has had to go.

The Constitution, by the way, says nothing about separation of church and state. The courts have interpreted the First Amendment, which states that Congress cannot pass laws promoting or restricting religion, as meaning church and state are to be kept separate.

Is it important to somehow sidestep this issue in Frederick or to embrace the fundamentals that are the underpinnings of our laws and legal principles? Sadly, few seem to understand why we adopted these laws and principles in the first place.

Frederick may try to find a compromise. Individuals and groups have offered to buy the chunk of land under the Ten Commandments. The city could consider giving the ground under the monument to the Nature Conservancy or a similar group. They could stipulate the memorials in the park remain where they are and offer to have the city maintain the ground around the monuments forever. The city also could argue the Ten Commandments are a quote from a literary source. The Bible as literature is taught in some college courses.

What is probable is that the city will be dragged, if it chose such tactics, into an annoying, expensive lawsuit. This issue should be resolved by finding some middle ground, but that's unlikely. Frederick will be hurt by the publicity if this issue becomes a battleground between the ACLU and the ACLJ. Likely, help from the ACLJ will be rejected to avoid becoming beholden to and creating a media event for their position.

Although the intent of the ACLU is one of high integrity, a lawsuit against the city will only ensure more ammunition for the fight between private and public morality. Fights over the Ten Commandments on public property has been another excuse for well-heeled, anti-government groups whose members get all the protections provided by the Constitution to claim they're oppressed. How ironic.

A number of local church leaders have taken a stand for keeping the Ten Commandments in the park. The obvious question to ask is whether this group has forgotten stands the generation of ministers before them took on other rights issues. Both the Constitution and The Bible were their guides to what was right then, each used appropriately. State Senators Alex Mooney and Tim Ferguson managed to jump on the wagon this group of ministers is pulling; both senators need the publicity as they face tough reelection campaigns.

The history behind the founding fathers demand for distance between religion and government is now a vague concept. Until we again experience real oppression from the government, not this constant whining about paying taxes but search and seizures without any protection or life where the church, government, law, and wealth are the same, we will not again understand why the Constitution is the right legal guide.

It's important to search for a resolution that doesn't drive the wedge any further between the private and public morality factions, but it won't happen. Curiously, by facing challenges, the Constitution becomes a more powerful document, and the ACLJ should realize this. Another question that should asked is whether the ACLJ, despite their claims, believes the Constitution stands in the way of their agenda and would prefer that it be destroyed.

Do we leave the interpretation of the Constitution and laws to the skill and steady hand of the courts or do we make it subject to popular whim and have the Constitution obliterated by children with erasers? The Bible is not our guide to the law. The Bible should be your guide to private morality, but the Constitution is our Bible to public morality.


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