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Are The Laws of the US Based on The Ten Commandments? January 28, 2008

Posted by Joe in belief, bible, Christianity, law, morality, religion, ten commandments.

I have seen many Christians explain that the ten commandments should be displayed on public property because our laws are based on them. Let’s walk ourselves through the ten commandments, straight out of the bible and see how much it has influenced the laws of the United States.

I’ve heard there are two sources for the commandments in the Bible, for our purposes we will use the verses of Exodus 20.

(From BibleGateway.com NIV)

1 And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

First the introduction to the commandments makes it quite clear that these are only directed at the Jews. (i.e. those that were allegedly brought out if slavery in Egypt.) So why do Christians even think that the ten commandments apply to them?

Let’s see which commandments correspond to US law:

3 “You shall have no other gods before [a] me.

The first commandment is so amazingly backwards with respect to the US Constitution it is amazing that anyone could say that one is related to the other with a straight face. The Constitution makes no mention of god, and its only two references to religion are restrictions limiting the governments involvement in religious affairs.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

I can see why we rarely see this commandment quoted in its entirety. Again, we see no correlation between this and a US law. In fact I would think it obvious that any legal proscription on how one should or should not practice their religion would be unconstitutional. So we have two commandments that not only are they not supported by the constitution as laws they would violate it.

7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

There probably have been laws against profanity in some places in the US, but it seems to be this would also be in contradiction with the first amendment of the Constitution and its provision for freedom of speech.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Ah yes, the blue laws. There have been laws relating to what can and can not be done on a Sunday. Many places still have laws about serving alcohol or gambling on Sunday. But the commandment doesn’t say that. It clearly states “On it you shall not do any work”. Clearly this would not even be feasible as a law.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Again no laws for this, and many designed to protect children from abusive or neglecting parents.

13 “You shall not murder.

Here we have something that is in accordance with US law. It is illegal to murder. I would dare to suggest though that this is such a glaringly obvious law for any functioning society that it really isn’t much of a hit.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

There have been laws against this in some locales, but by and large the US government keeps its nose out of adult consensual heterosexual sex. Unfortunately, at some times it has not been so accommodating of homosexual sex.

15 “You shall not steal.

Hit number two. Though again it is a law that I think any modern society would need to function.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

To be fair I would have to count this as a hit. Given false testimony in a court of law is certainly illegal in the US. One could wonder if the law against perjury was written because of commandment nine or whether it was to facilitate the discovery of facts in the legal process.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

No laws against this. In fact there is the cultural notion of “keeping up with the Jones'” that seems to demonstrate that many Americans have no issue “coveting”

To sum up, it appears that only three of the ten commandments even have corresponding laws in the United States. All three of those that are seem to be obvious laws necessary for an orderly society. Is there any nation on Earth without laws against murder, theft, and perjury?

I think the idea that the ten commandments have anything to do with US law or the Constitution is obviously ludicrous.



1. Canadamama - January 7, 2009

That’s awesome.

Very well written, and I thoroughly agree.

I am in the middle of a debate with Clay on http://christiantheology.wordpress.com/2008/12/16/i-don%E2%80%99t-mind-straight-people-as-long-as-they-act-gay-in-public/#comment-3392 (sorry for stretching your screen). Neiswonger recently joined in too. I would be interested in your thoughts – you don’t have to join in in situ, but I have read several of your posts and find them insightful and respectful, which I admire, so I’d be interested in what you think.


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