A Monumental Story

It is made of granite. It weighs 5,300 pounds. It was a big object in the rotunda of the state judicial building in Montgomery, Ala. It is not there anymore, but it remains a big object in the news.

I will not, in this column, take a stand on whether or not the Ten Commandments (search) monument belonged in its former location; far too many people have already expressed their opinions. Rather, I want to explain why this story has bulked so large both on the air and in the papers for the past two weeks.

Part of its appeal, actually, is that it is two stories, depending on how the various reporter or columnist wants to tell it.

It is the story of the lone Christian crusader, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (search), now suspended, fighting the forces of secularism and immorality and having inspired a march by supporters on the state capitol.

Or it is the story of the lone crusading egomaniac, defying the intent of the Founding Fathers (search) for the purpose of personal religious expression.

Or it is a story that combines elements of both of the above, hoping to achieve a certain fairness and balance.

It is the kind of story to which people respond viscerally; encounter it for the first time with a blood pressure sleeve around your arm and your numbers may very well soar. Why would anyone want to get rid of the Ten Commandments? some will wonder as both systolic and diastolic climb to the red zone. Why would anyone so blatantly disregard the Founders’ desire to separate church and state, not to mention the oath he had sworn upon becoming a judge? will be the plaint of others as the nurse runs for medication.

It is also the kind of story to which people respond intellectually, as it stirs debate about the meaning of the First Amendment. What kind of law, precisely, respects an establishment of religion? What kind of monument does? Didn’t the framers of the Constitution (search), during the very process of constructing the document, acknowledge their belief in, and dependence upon, the Almighty?

It is a story that raises hackles as well as questions, that transcends the here-and-now and asks about the very nature of being an American.

It is a story about the apparent bull-headedness of Judge Moore. Why did he think it was his place, and his alone, to order the Ten Commandments monument to be installed in the judicial building in Montgomery? True, he and other private donors paid for it--no taxpayer money involved--but what made him think such a step was necessary?

And could he please stop comparing himself to Patrick Henry?

That having been said, it is also a story about the role of faith in American pubic life. Yes, the Ten Commandments are the teachings of Christianity, but although expressed in different language, and with different points of emphasis, they are also the teachings of every other major religion in the world. Don’t all creeds insist on the primacy of their divine being, and set aside a holy day each week? Don’t all men and women of sound mind and good will object to killing and stealing and bearing false witness?

Why is it so controversial, in a nation founded by Christians and populated primarily by Christians, to express such basic tenets of human behavior in the language of Christianity, even in, or especially in, a public venue? There is no implication in the Ten Commandments of unfair treatment toward Jews or Muslims or Buddhists. The Ten Commandments are not, after all, the Seven Deadly Sins (search).

Furthermore, some of the Ten Commandments are the basis of law as well as religion. To engrave them on a piece of granite in the rotunda of a judicial building does not seem altogether inappropriate.

The big piece of granite is now out of sight. The appeal of the story, however, remains clear.

Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT.

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