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irregular times logoThou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Slave:
Slavery and the Moral Vision of the Ten Commandments

For a long time, we liberals have been struggling to understand just why so many Republicans believe that the Ten Commandments, and not the Constitution of the United States, are the legal foundation of the American government. Consider what the Ten Commandments actually include:

  • The first commandment of the Ten Commandments reads, "I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
  • The second commandment reads, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."
  • The third commandment reads, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."
  • The fourth commandment reads, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. "

    The first, second, and fourth commandments are essentially demands that people observe only one true religion. Well, that doesn't fit with the foundation of American law, does it? At the base of American law is the first amendment, which protects the right of citizens to practice whatever religion they want, or to choose not to practice religion at all.

    Then there's the third commandment, which insists that no one be allowed to draw pictures. As far as I know, there has never been a law in the United States that forbids Americans from drawing pictures.

    So, what kind of link can the right wing fundamentalists make between the Ten Commandments and American legal traditions? They look to the tenth commandment, which reads, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's."

    The way that American Christian fundamentalists read the tenth commandments, it is also unholy, and should be illegal to covet your neighbor's slave. To the fundamentalists, property rights trump the most basic elements of human dignity, because, well, because the Bible tells them so. Certainly, the fundamentalists are correct in saying that this principle from the tenth commandment was a dominating force in America's legal foundations. That doesn't make it a good thing, but the use of the tenth commandment in justification of slavery is as older than the USA, and fundamentalists are keeping the shameful tradition alive today.

    Slash Through Confederate Flag (sticker)So, it really isn't a surprise that Christian activists in Alabama are blending the effort to force the Ten Commandments on all Americans with an effort to create an official government celebration of the pro-slavery Southern Confederacy. The Alabama fundamentalists are pushing hard this year to create a new official government revision of American history in which the Confederacy was "honorable" and slavery simply was never a problem.

    To this effort to twist the plain facts of American history, the fundamentalists are enlisting the support of the supporters of former judge Roy Moore. Roy Moore gained infamy as the Alabama state Supreme Court Justice who had a monument to the Ten Commandments installed on government land in the middle of the night, and defended the Ten Commandments monument as a sign that American government is based upon the authority of God.

    Now, the right wing Christian activists of Alabama are promising to run Roy Moore as a candidate for governor of Alabama. Roy Moore's supporters are openly promising that the pro-slavery principles of the old Southern Confederacy will be at the core of the "moral values" platform of his new campaign. Roger Broxton, president of the Confederate Heritage Fund, made the threat plain when he declared "Roy Moore will get all of the Confederate vote for governor."

    The "Confederate vote"? Since when was there a Confederate vote in America? It's been almost 140 years, but it looks like southern right-wing fundamentalists are preparing the way to bring back the Confederacy, slavery, and all of the nightmares that America endured before the Civil War. It seems that when the religious right talks about creating a Culture War, they're deadly serious.

    The next time you encounter someone who supports putting the Ten Commandments all over government property, you'll do well to confront them with the racist, pro-slavery aspect of the Ten Commandments activists. Creating official government promotion of the Ten Commandments may seem to be just a matter of words, but those words have consequences. The movement to insert God into government is going hand in hand to bring slavery back into the center of American law.

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