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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

Back to First Principles

September 20, 2003

Alan Dershowitz's Sept. 14 commentary, "They've Fallen Off the Top 10 List," takes a legitimate viewpoint, that the Ten Commandments have no place in a state courthouse, and twists it into a general attack on the principles of the commandments. He falls into the all-too-common trap of invoking Thomas Jefferson as some kind of arbiter of American morality and principles; given the wildly varying nature of the founding fathers' views on Christianity and morality, it seems disingenuous to use a single quote from a man who was continually wrestling with his own spirituality as representative of anything like the original intent of the fathers of the country.

Dershowitz conveniently dismisses the principles that virtually every civilized person would agree with (prohibitions against murder, theft, lying, adultery) as not original to the Ten Commandments. The fact that intergenerational accountability is hardly original to the commandments seems to have escaped him. No person who values a secular government should support displaying the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court, but neither should any rational person reject the values of the Ten Commandments as inherently un-American because of some dispute over whether the "day of rest" is really Saturday or Sunday. Those who keep the commandments close to their hearts are just as American as anyone else who calls this country home.

Michael Booe

Mission Viejo

*

Dershowitz is more right than he realizes. A primitive worldview of lawlessness required law, which later the doctors of the law perverted and idolized. His grasp of U.S. origins is shortsighted, if the U.S. begins only with Jefferson and deism. If he thinks that sin is without consequences for future generations, then how is it that Saddam Hussein's grandchildren are without fathers or his own will be paying for the war in Iraq?

Thurber D. Proffitt III

Orange

*

The examination by Dershowitz was excellent, but it raises the question: Which Ten Commandments? The Bible itself offers three different versions. The Decalogue in Exodus 20 differs from the one in Deuteronomy 5 in several ways, chief among them being the reason for the Sabbath: In the first it's the usually quoted "on the seventh day God rested," while the second makes no mention of creation. Neither one of these differing versions is named in the biblical text as "The Ten Commandments." That explicit title is reserved for an entirely different set of rules, enunciated in Exodus 34, none of which can serve any other purpose than as the calendar for rites in the ancient temple. Nothing about moral behavior of any kind -- except, possibly, No. 10: "You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk."

Hershl Hartman

Los Angeles

*

I completely agree with Dershowitz: The Ten Commandments have no place in a public courtroom. Visitors to the U.S. Supreme Court (such as attorneys, like Dershowitz, who have argued there) have looked up to their right and left and seen the north and south wall friezes sculpted in the 1930s by Adolph Weinman. The friezes depict a procession of "great lawgivers of history": One can see, among others, Hammurabi, Confucius, Justinian, Muhammad and, sure enough, a rather stern-looking Moses holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments. The 18 lawgivers depicted in the friezes are, one hopes, reminders to the nine justices that law is the result of historical process over time and that America is a nation of living laws, not fixed religious or ideological doctrine.

Gerald Sato

Los Angeles

*

Dershowitz maintains that the Ten Commandments not only do not belong in public courthouses but, without some amendments, also do not belong in the hearts and minds of contemporary Americans. So, let's place the following amendment above any display of the Ten Commandments: "The courts are packed. The costs are high. Your tax dollar has to pay for it. Help us reduce the workload and costs -- follow these 10 suggestions."

Gunther R. Bauer

Rolling Hills Estates

*

I see where Dershowitz is coming from. If everyone lived by the Ten Commandments, he would be out of a job.

Charlene Fleming

Manhattan Beach

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