Letter: An un-American new law in North Dakota
The First Commandment embodies principles that directly conflict with the secular values on which the United States was founded. No government has the right to tell North Dakota citizens which god to worship, how many gods to worship, or whether to worship any gods at all.
A new North Dakota law is sneaking into public schools’ divine command that is, to be blunt, un-American.
Gov. Doug Burgum has signed a law that has the goal of imposing on every public school classroom a set of biblical law that begins, “I am the Lord your God … You shall have no other gods before me.”
The First Commandment embodies principles that directly conflict with the secular values on which the United States was founded. No government has the right to tell North Dakota citizens which god to worship, how many gods to worship, or whether to worship any gods at all. The First Commandment directly violates the First Amendment, and is reason enough to find this new law unconstitutional.
The commandments prohibit free expression and art (graven images), free speech (taking the Lord’s name in vain), and even promise to punish innocent descendants “to the third and fourth generation” of anyone who has broken them. Sure, a few of the Ten Commandments overlap with criminal laws that prohibit murder, theft and perjury. But these rules are not exclusive or original to Judeo-Christianity. They are universal principles that pretty much all human societies have adopted.
Four decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court explained that “the pre-eminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious” and ruled that such displays are therefore unconstitutional. The North Dakota law claims that school districts are immune from litigation over the law, but saying so does not make it true. This bad law will inevitably result in a school district being sued and losing – at the expense of North Dakota taxpayers. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has successfully sued three times to remove Ten Commandments monuments or posters from public schools, and is prepared to challenge this blatantly unconstitutional law.
Andrew L. Seidel, Madison, Wis.
Andrew L. Seidel is a constitutional attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a state/church watchdog with more than 35,000 members nationwide, including in North Dakota. .