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Government cannot command beliefs

Here in Happy Valley we live by a code. It is somewhat ambiguous, yet the majority of us agree in principle to follow the rules as posted, although from time to time we tend to take a few liberties here and there.Often called a set of laws, they generally apply to conduct while on the ski mountain and include such facets as staying in control, yielding right-of-way when appropriate, not stopping where you shouldn’t, proper use of safety equipment and heeding all warnings.Some say we need these rules to truly “know” how to conduct ourselves. Others say they are simply reminders of common sense based upon current cultural ethics and moral values.I agree with the latter.In two or three months, the U.S. Supreme Court will let us know if a religious code – a set of rules known as the Ten Commandments – can be posted on land owned and maintained with publicly collected tax dollars. Extremists on both sides of the issue eagerly await their decision, each planning massive public displays of retaliation just in case the court blesses the perceived wrong direction.Contrary to the religious fervor of late, our nation was founded not on Christian principles but a secular doctrine based upon liberties and freedom for all of those willing to participate. In doing so, the founding fathers were able to accomplish many goals, one in particular by way of the First Amendment and a subsequent letter by President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut in 1802, which effectively raised a wall of rationality between the role of a secular democratic government in legislating its citizens and religious teachings intended only for select groups. History had taught these amazing men (who were not all Christians) that a secular democracy was their small, upstart nation’s best chance for long-term success.They were correct.Taking the secular thought a step further, there has been an estimated 10,000 different religions over the past 10,000 years. To paraphrase the late Carl Sagan, if the basic idea for religion is the same (an innate hope for immortality of some sort) yet each proposes different results in accordance with different, mutually incompatible rules, then either all the systems are wrong or only one is correct.It simply cannot be any other way.So if a religious document is posted on government land, then how do we as a secular government decide which particular religion to represent, knowing full well that every other religion, no matter how many there happen to be at that moment, will be justified in claiming discrimination?Short answer: We cannot.The Ten Commandments are a set of ethical codes or rules (perhaps suggestions is more appropriate) by which to live one’s life. Tangible history proves the Egyptians had a legal code of ethics over 5,000 years ago, as well as the Mesopotamians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans hundreds and thousands of years before the Judeo-Christian versions appeared on the historical scene.Versions? Yes, the Jews, Catholics and Protestants each have different versions of the Ten Commandments. But for this column let’s just admit that they all pretty much say the same thing, which is, of course, to be good to one another.However, while it is true that our Constitution makes no mention whatsoever of a god, and the Declaration of Independence only provides two instances of mention (both construed by many as simple metaphors for nature due to their limited scientific knowledge at the time), many who live a life based upon blind obedience to faith will continue to fight either way. Irrational fears will always promote irrational decisions.Ben Franklin once said, “If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it?” Due to two billion Christians, one billion Muslims, one billion Hindus, one billion miscellaneous religions and one billion secular/non-religious/atheists/agnostics, we won’t have a plausible answer any time soon. The U.S. Supreme Court has not touched this issue since 1980, when it struck down a Kentucky law requiring that the Ten Commandments be displayed in public classrooms. In the last 25 years, lower courts have made about two dozen conflicting rulings on the subject, each nullifying the other. Hopefully, this court will do its best to make a clear cut, gray-free decision. Our nation is bogged down enough as it is with the economy, health care, immigration, terrorism and other world-affecting events to waste time and energy attempting to redefine an issue that will always exist in some form but, as history has consistently proven, should never play an active role in any government.Richard Carnes of Edwards writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at poor@vail.netVail, Colorado


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