Ten Commandments: An Overview
Article ID: 2406
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 6,462
Times Read: 18,110
Posted: June 21st. 1999
Times Viewed: 18,110
Changing The Constitution:
A Commentary by Wren Walker
Q. How Much Time Does It Actually Take To Change A Constitution?
A. Sometimes less than 35 minutes.
It is a good thing that the original copies of the Constitution and The Bill of Rights rest securely under glass in the rotunda of National Archives and Records Administration Building and are under constant military guard.
It is a good thing because the debate that took place on the floor of the House of Representatives over the Consequences For Juvenile Offenders Act of 1999 (H.B. 1501) on June 16, 1999 and the vote which followed on the morning of June 17 seem to indicate one very clear point: There are those in the House today who would like nothing better than to smash that protective glass and run the most important documents of the United States through the first office paper shredder that they can find.
The debate over the entire H.R. 1501 Bill itself was lengthy, often heated and mostly drawn along party lines. (You can look up H.B. 1501 by going to the Thomas Legislative Information site.) That's politics. That is what we expect will happen on the floors of the Senate and the House. That is what our Senators and Representatives get paid (by us) to do. We elect them to listen to our concerns, propose legislation to address those concerns and do their best to pass that legislation.
To get a piece of legislation passed is usually no easy task. It takes compromise, a complete understanding of the issue and its ramifications, the ability to convince others that it is needed and continued feedback from colleagues and constituents.
That is unless you as a representative or senator have discovered that OTHER way of getting your pet project 'on the books'. It is called "stealth legislation."
Stealth legislation is a detour around the public's right to know what is being considered on the legislative floors. It is often initiated as an amendment tacked on to another bill. It is a commonplace procedure. And unfortunately, often it works.
In The Dead of The Night...
Representative Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, Alabama introduced a bill last year (HR 4154) called the "Ten Commandments Defense Act." Due to strong opposition from civil liberties groups and the time eaten up by the presidential impeachment hearings, it didn't go very far.
During the media blitz surrounding Rep. Bob Barr's attacks on Witches in the military, it came out that Rep. Aderholt was planning to push the issue forward once again. Many pagan organizations went on alert searching the daily congressional digests for information about the introduction of such a bill.
Nothing. There was just no mention of it anywhere.
So the coffee wasn't the only thing that gave us a jolt when we read in the papers on June 16th that this same 'Ten Commandments Defense Act' had already been debated on the House floor. Had we missed something?
No, it turns out that we hadn't missed anything. Aderholt had decided to employ stealth tactics this time around. The amendment was introduced and debated not in the light of day, but in the dead of the night. It was around midnight on June 16-17 that this amendment entered the chamber floor!
What Is Wrong With This Picture?
That is exactly what Mr. Edwards of Texas wanted to know."Mr. Chairman, what is wrong with this picture? Our Founding Fathers decided that the issue of religious liberty, the concept of separating church and State in America was so important it should be the first 16 words of the Bill of Rights."
"But here we are, after midnight, more staff people on this floor than Members of this House, debating with the gracious allowance of 10 minutes on each side, 10 minutes to debate an issue that is fundamental to the point."
That's right. Ten minutes allotted to each side in which to debate whether to take a hammer to that glass case or not. Twenty minutes to decide whether one religion's rights include the right to impose-even legislate-their religious doctrines on everyone else. Twenty minutes in which to determine, as Mr. Edwards goes on to say, "...whether government has the right to use its resources to push its religious views on other free citizens of this land.
The Picture Begins To Come Into Focus...
Mr. Aderholt in his opening remarks said," This amendment today is not just about the display of the Ten Commandments....Our Nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and by our Founding Fathers."
Mr. Aderholt was right in the first part of his statements at least. This amendment is about MUCH more than the mere posting of words on a classroom or courtroom wall.
Rep. Robert Scott (Va.) replied, "Mr. Chairman, our rich tradition of religious diversity is a cornerstone of American constitutional rights. Rather than trying to honor and promote that tradition of religious diversity by focusing on the Ten Commandments, this amendment seeks to elevate one particular religion over all others. This singling out of one religion is contrary to the American ideal of religious tolerance and is blatantly unconstitutional."
And as far as Mr. Adeholt's last reverent reference to our Founding Fathers goes, all I can say is that I am sure that our Founding Fathers spent more than twenty minutes working out this part of the Bill of Rights!
Enter Mr. Bob Barr...
Hardly surprising that he would have comments to share given Mr. Barr's shock over his recent discovery that Witches, Wiccans and pagans actually have equal rights under the Constitution.
" Mr. Chairman, this is a copy of the Ten Commandments that hangs on the wall of the office of the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Barr), Representative from the Seventh District. This has been hanging on our wall for close to 5 years now, since I was sworn in as a Member of this Chamber."
"Not one time have we had somebody that has walked into that office, seen these Commandments, fallen down on their knees and say, I must pay homage to whatever religion the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Barr) is. There is nothing in these Ten Commandments that reaches out and grabs somebody and forces them to abide by any particular religious belief."
That is a very interesting comment indeed as it really gets down to the heart of the matter in a way that I doubt Mr. Barr intended.
Before midnight on June 16th, there WAS nothing in the Ten Commandments that forced anyone to abide by any particular belief. If the Ten Commandments are your doctrine of faith, then so be it. You are free to put them on your wall-and better yet-to put them into practice. That is religious freedom. That is Mr. Barr's religious freedom and he can enjoy those tablets hanging on his office to his heart's content.
But if the persons of the Congress so declare that they will hang high the tenets of this one religious set of statutes over all the beliefs and doctrines of other religions-and do so by driving in the picture hooks with the hammering force of Congressional legislation-then 'homage' is indeed what is being promoted, expected and then ultimately required.
The argument put forth that the individual states could decide whether to hang the commandments or not is nothing but a false show of tolerance. Those of the majority religion of each state would decide, of course. Pretty good bet that those of a certain Christian fundamentalist flavor would see this as a natural development of their majority status and begin right away to start pounding the nail holes into classroom walls.
However, they should be reminded that Islam and pagan religions are growing rapidly. Need you wonder how well a government endorsement on the posting of the Wiccan Rede or the Five Pillars of Islam or the The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha would go over in Mr. Adelholt's or Mr. Barr's districts?
Getting The Picture?
As Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va. put it;"...Amendment I of the Constitution says the Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Obviously, picking one religious symbol establishes that religion.
Obviously Mr. Scott gets the picture and the Supreme Court agrees. In Stone v. Graham it ruled, "If posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause."
But did the "good" people in the House listen to the voices of reason? Did they care that the Supreme Court has already ruled that what they proposed in the dead of the night was unconstitutional? Did they stand back to look at what was 'wrong with this picture'?
On the morning of June 17th-after a fifteen minute vote and no further debate-the House passed the 'Ten Commandments Defense Act of 1999" with 248 members voting 'aye', 180 voting 'no' and 6 'no votes'. (See how your representative voted: ROLL CALL VOTE 221)
Do YOU like this picture?
H.B. 1501 will now go on to the Senate for approval.
Walk in Light and Love,
June 21st., 1998
The Witches' Voice
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