Joe Fausnight, in his sensible and entertaining Dec. 15 letter, demonstrated clearly that American law has no basis in the Ten Commandments. Evidently, reader Vera Farmer-Welk took umbrage. In her indignant Jan. 2 response, she attempted to show American law rests on the Bible and cited a variety of proofs.
At least Fausnight was thinking for himself. Farmer-Welk dredged up nearly every one of "her" arguments from Christian-right Internet sources, virtually word-for-word. That does not mean, of course, that all her arguments are automatically wrong. It just so happens that in this case, however, most of them are.
For example, Farmer-Welk claims the engraving of Moses and the Ten Commandments on the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. proves "the Founding Fathers most certainly had the Commandments in mind when this country was formed." And yet, oddly, that building was not constructed until 1935, when most of the Founding Fathers were approaching their 200th birthdays!
She then repeats a description by one of her unacknowledged sources of the engraving of Moses in a "row of the world's lawgivers." "Each one is facing one in the middle, who is facing forward: It is Moses, and he is holding the Ten Commandments." The implication is that the other lawgivers are deferring to Moses. Well, not quite. Flanking Moses are Confucius and Solon; they are facing front, too. The actual symbolic message is that American law is (ouch!) multicultural!
Next she repeats the alleged words of James Madison which end "to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God." Just one small problem here: These words appear nowhere in Madison's writings and have been repudiated repeatedly by Madison scholars. Nevertheless, they continue to be falsely attributed to Madison by Christian conservatives. What Madison, a deist, actually did say was, "Civil Government functions with complete success... whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State" ( Madison, March 2, 1819, Writings, 8: 431-432).
Farmer-Welk continues with a Christian quotation from Patrick Henry, whom she identifies as a "Founding Father of our country." Founding Father Henry must have had urgent business at home since he signed neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution, but we'll let that pass.
What is much more interesting is that Henry played a prominent part in a colorful episode in Georgia history. As principal in the Virginia Yazoo Company, Henry tried to buy a large portion of western Georgia for "peanuts," a land swindle which was denounced by President Washington himself and led to Henry's public humiliation. It looks like good Christian Patrick Henry was actually guilty of a Whitewater land scam long before Republicans ever thought of accusing Bill Clinton!
The final, surely unintentional, irony in Farmer-Welk's letter is that a group of so allegedly devout men should have produced such a "Godless" document as our Constitution. The only conclusion must be that most of the Founding Fathers believed Madison was right.
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