On NBC's "Today" show recently, co-host Katie Couric was questioning conservative Janet Parshall, and the conversation got around to whether the Ten Commandments ought to be posted in public schools. Ms. Parshall thought they should.
Whereupon Ms. Couric moved in for the kill: "But do you really think a simple posting of the Ten Commandments will prevent youth violence?" That question is a belated but formidable entry in the competition for Stupidest Question of the 20th Century.
Nobody certainly not Ms. Parshall nor I is suggesting that if Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, upon entering Columbine High School with their sawed-off shotguns under their coats, had happened to see the Ten Commandments posted on a wall and read the firm injunction "Thou shalt not kill," they would have turned on their heels and slunk away. The truth is, however, that posting the Ten Commandments would inevitably give rise to a train of thought, among the student body as a whole and over a long period of time, so powerful in its implications that the proposal is being fought bitterly by people who reject those implications. If the Ten Commandments were really so innocuous, they wouldn't bother.
What, then, are those implications? The Ten Commandments are, or purport to be, commandments of God, given by him to Moses and transmitted by Moses to the people of Israel. If so, that necessarily implies two extremely important things: First, that there is a God, a Supreme Being who created heaven and earth and everything in them (including mankind); and second, that God has solemnly ordered mankind to obey the injunctions laid down in the commandments he gave to Moses.
If those commandments were posted prominently in every public school, their first effect would be to let the students know that the school authorities (and for that matter, the state government that controls them) acknowledges the existence of God. And their second effect would be to inform the students of God's 10 rules laid down to govern their behavior. Further reflection would inevitably suggest to the students that disobeying the orders of a Supreme Being is rather obviously a bad idea.
One can see why people who deny the existence of God, and of immutable moral "commandments," would fight the posting of the Ten Commandments. They insist that this would violate the First Amendment's ban on the establishment of a state religion, though the statements of the Founding Fathers, beginning with the words of the Declaration of Independence, openly acknowledge the existence of God.
Once the subversive notion that there is a God, and that he has given us rules to obey and live by, begins to spread through the student population, its consequences over time are bound to be enormous. To some students, who have received religious instruction at home, it will be old news. Others, already steeped in secularism, will dismiss it as a bad joke. But many students, who have received little or no religious instruction from their parents, will note the respect with which society at large (as represented by the school) treats the Ten Commandments, and feel subtly drawn to the whole concept.
Simply posting the Ten Commandments in school will never wipe out sin. But it is a safe bet that it would nudge toward God an unknown number of youngsters who might otherwise become moral monsters not far different from the killers of Columbine High. (Copyright 1999 Newspaper Enterprise Assn.)