When words fall short

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - PERSPECTIVE - PAUL GREEN­BERG

That im­age of the smashed Ten Com­mand­ments on the state Capi­tol’s grounds raised all kinds of ques­tions, such as: Who re­ally handed down the Big Ten—the Lord God or Ce­cil B. DeMille, the great movie maker who cre­ated his own world?

Talk about mixed mes­sages as well as mixed me­dia, this mon­stros­ity had an Amer­i­can eagle atop a flag, an all-see­ing Eye of God, some Stars of David scat­tered here and there … this mon­u­ment had some­thing to please every­body—ex­cept those who still hold fast to the bi­b­li­cal in­junc­tion: Thou shalt not make to thy­self any graven images.

For that mat­ter, this state’s con­sti­tu­tion com­mands: “No hu­man au­thor­ity can, in any case or man­ner what­so­ever, con­trol or in­ter­fere with the right of con­science; and no pref­er­ence shall ever be given, by law, to any re­li­gious es­tab­lish­ment, de­nom­i­na­tion or mode of wor­ship, above any other.”

By seek­ing to please all, this sac­ri­lege suc­ceeded in dis­pleas­ing many— in­clud­ing the fa­natic whom the po­lice re­port chose to drive into the mon­u­ment barely a day af­ter it had gone up, leav­ing it in pieces. Just as the orig­i­nal was hurled to the ground and shat­tered by that orig­i­nal icon­o­clast Moses. So far there are no re­ports of women col­lect­ing the re­main­ing pieces of the statue in or­der to re­con­struct them in the shape of a golden calf.

The only sure re­sult of all th­ese go­ings-on over this Gar­den of the Gods ris­ing on the Capi­tol grounds may be a flurry of law­suits. Mean­while, wor­ship­pers of other deities await their turn to erect their own statue. To quote Lu­cien Greaves, who co-founded the Satanic Tem­ple in the once Pu­ri­tan com­mon­wealth of Mas­sachusetts: “We’re not ac­tu­ally su­ing to have the Ten Com­mand­ments taken down. It’s to have our mon­u­ment put up.”

This time Rita Sk­lar, who di­rects the Arkansas branch of the ACLU, the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, may have a rel­e­vant point when she ob­serves: “There is no law in fed­eral, state or lo­cal gov­ern­ment—that’s stand­ing any more, any­way—that ad­mon­ishes Amer­i­cans to have no other God be­fore one God.” Be­sides, she asks, which ver­sion of the Ten Com­mand­ments would be quoted on a mon­u­ment to their his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance? Which is the du­bi­ous ra­tio­nale for erect­ing such a mon­u­ment. As she points out: “There’s the Catholic ver­sion. There’s the Protes­tant ver­sion. There’s the He­brew ver­sion. The se­lec­tion of th­ese par­tic­u­lar com­mand­ments has a spe­cial place in the Chris­tian re­li­gion in par­tic­u­lar, and this word­ing is from the Protes­tant sect of the Chris­tian re­li­gion.”

As usual, Sen­a­tor Ja­son Rapert is more than ready to hand down a land­mark le­gal de­ci­sion though at the mo­ment he hap­pens to be a mem­ber of this state’s leg­isla­tive branch rather than the Supreme Court of the United States, which has not yet availed it­self of his gen­er­ously of­fered ser­vices. Af­ter all, the ha­bit­u­ally ar­gu­men­ta­tive Sen­a­tor Rapert ar­gues this time, the U.S. Supreme Court’s build­ing in­cludes a de­pic­tion of the Ten Com­mand­ments, ergo: “If it’s good enough for the United States Supreme Court, it is good enough for the state Capi­tol of Arkansas.” That the Supreme Court it­self has handed down con­flict­ing opin­ions about this mat­ter doesn’t seem to de­ter Sen­a­tor Rapert from leap­ing to still an­other strange con­clu­sion about what the law of the land means.

Rita Sk­lar has a per­ti­nent point to make in this un­nec­es­sar­ily con­fused and con­fus­ing de­bate: “Re­li­gious mon­u­ments have been up­held by the court in much older build­ings where the mon­u­ment has ex­isted for a long time and is part of the his­toric struc­ture. No­body is go­ing to take down the U.S. Supreme Court or the U.S. Capi­tol but [the jus­tices] have not looked so well on newer mon­u­ments that are clearly erected for re­li­gious pur­poses.”

Ac­cord­ing to the po­lice re­port, the sus­pect in this case, Michael Tate Reed of Van Buren, Ark., started his ve­hi­cle from a stopped po­si­tion and drove into the Ten Com­mand­ments mon­u­ment. Which sounds like a de­lib­er­ate act of

vandalism, though a due re­spect for the law re­quires that the fi­nal dis­po­si­tion of his case should re­spect­fully be left to the courts.

Here’s a sug­ges­tion about how to han­dle this case un­til th­ese par­ties with strong opin­ions about it calm down: Round them up, lock them in a padded cell, and tell them not to come out till they can agree on what to do in the mat­ter of The Ten Com­mand­ments vs. We the Peo­ple. But, please, leave the rest of us out of their quar­rel. The news is dis­may­ing enough as is. The only con­clu­sion word­smiths at Arkansas’ News­pa­per can of­fer to­day is: Words fail.

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