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Same old clich s forget history

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY:

September 12, 2007|By Elaine Hampton

In his long Mailbag letter published in the Burbank Leader on Wednesday, “Must look at the founders’ words,” David Kim trots out all the old cliches and myths about the intentions of the founders of our republic when they wrote the Constitution.

Cliché No. 1: The moldy old claim that “this country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.”

The brilliant framers of our Constitution — James Madison, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and others — were products of the European Enlightenment, passionate secularists, and made every effort to ensure that the laws of our country were based on secular common sense instead of religious dogma.

This is most clearly stated in the first phrase of a treaty drafted in 1796 under George Washington, and signed by John Adams in 1797: “As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion . . . .” What could be clearer than that?

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The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Everson vs. Board of Education (1947) is typical of many rulings on church and state issues, until very recently: “Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another . . . .”

In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and state.”

Cliché No. 2: “We base our laws on the Ten Commandments.”

Oh, really? There are two widely differing sets of commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, according to the book of Exodus.

The first list (Exodus 20:3-17) is the one most Americans are familiar with, and only three of those 10 commandments have any relevance to American law: the prohibitions against homicide, theft and perjury. None of these is unique to the Judeo-Christian culture. Every civilization in the world, before Moses, after Moses, cultures that never heard of Moses, has had nearly identical laws. But, also according to Exodus, Moses smashed the stone tablets bearing those laws, and God ordered him to go back up Mount Sinai for a new pair of tablets containing “. . . the words that were in the first tablets, which thou breakest.”

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