The Influence of the Ten Commandments on American Law - According to the NCBCPS
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 12:49:14 PM EST
We're all familiar with the often heard claim that our laws are based on the ten commandments. We're also familiar with the response when someone making this claim is asked, "Which laws?" The answer is always the same -- those forbidding murder, stealing, and perjury -- covering, of course, only three of the ten. Sometimes blue laws are included, giving them four. The National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS), however, does what few would attempt to do. They assert, using various laws of the state of Kentucky to support their assertion, that there are, in fact, laws based on each and every one of the commandments. Needless to say, some of the comparisons are pretty big stretches. Pornography laws are a prohibition of making a "graven image;" the acknowledgement of God in the state constitution's preamble is an example of "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me;" the fee for a minor's marriage application is an example of "Honor thy father and thy mother;" etc.

The following comparison is found on pages103 and 104 of the NCBCPS curriculum, in Unit 6: Hebrew Law, Exodus Chapters 20-40.

An Example for Comparison:
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and the Civil and Criminal Laws of the State of Kentucky


Kentucky encourages the public recognition of God. E.g., "Preamble of the Kentucky Constitution. We the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberties we enjoy, and invoking the continuance of these blessings, do ordain and establish this Constitution..."


Kentucky prohibits certain forms of graven images and what might be considered "mental idolatry." E.g., Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) 531.020 prohibits distribution of obscenity; KRS 531.010 prohibits distribution of pornography; KRS 531.030 prohibits distribution to a minor; etc.


Kentucky prohibits false oaths where God is appealed to as a witness of truth. E.g., KRS 523.020 defines and criminalizes perjury (a false oath).


Kentucky restricts certain activities on Sundays. E.g., KRS 436.160 criminalizes work on Sundays as an "offense against morality;" KRS 436.165 restrains sales activities on Sunday subject to control; etc.


Kentucky encourages parental respect and obedience. E.g., KRS 402.020 imposes a fee for a minor's application to marry without parental consent; KRS 311.732 requires parental consent for any minor seeking an abortion; etc.


Kentucky prohibits murder. E.g., KRS 506.030 criminalizes solicitation of murder; KRS 507.020 defines and prohibits murder; KRS 507.030 defines and prohibits manslaughter; etc.


Kentucky protects marriage. E.g., KRS 411.040 ("An accusation of incest, fornication or adultery against any person shall be actionable. In such a case the plaintiff shall not be required to allege or prove special damage."); KRS 530.010 prohibits Bigamy; KRS 530.020 prohibits incest; KRS 392.090 bars certain property claims in cases of divorce or adultery; etc.


Kentucky protects private property. E.g., KRS 514.030 defines and prohibits theft; KRS Ch. 515 defines and prohibits robbery; KRS 432.350 prohibits giving and taking bribes; KRS 411.095 imposes liability for stealing goods of a retailer; KRS 506.030 criminalizes solicitation of theft; KRS 516.020 prohibits forgery; etc.


Kentucky forbids lying and defamation. E.g., KRS 523.020 criminalizes perjury; KRS 432.280 allows criminal prosecution for libel or slander; KRS 304.12-060 criminalizes making false or defamatory statements concerning an insurer; etc.


Kentucky forbids acting upon covetousness, or, the illicit desire of anything that is the property of another. E.g., KRS 506.040 [curriculum says 506.404, obviously a typo] criminalizes conspiracy; KRS 506.050 defines and prohibits conspiracy; etc.

Here are a few of the many problems I have with the NCBCPS comparison.

For commandment #1:
Besides the fact that a preamble to a constitution is not a civil or criminal law, this acknowledgement of a non-specific god doesn't even come close to the commandment to put "no other gods before" a particular god. (This acknowledgement of God didn't even appear in Kentucky's first three constitutions. It wasn't added until 1891, a century after Kentucky became a state.)

For commandment #2:
Using the logic that pornography is a graven image, all forms of visual entertainment that people can become obsessed with - from video games to soap operas to reality TV - could be considered graven images. If the reason for Kentucky's pornography laws is the second commandment, why hasn't the state made laws prohibiting these other forms of "mental idolatry."

For commandment #3:
For this one, the NCBCPS just uses the same perjury law that it uses for commandment #9. And, of course, the same law that prohibits false oaths also prohibits false secular affirmations to tell the truth, which are equally recognized by the law. Nowhere does this law mention that an oath might be to God, or that this would make a difference. (It is also interesting to note that neither the first constitution of Kentucky, in1792, or its second constitution, in 1799, included the words "so help me God" as part of the oath or affirmation for public office.)

For commandment #5:
The assertion that the fee imposed by KRS 402.020 "encourages parental respect and obedience" is ridiculous. In fact, it does the opposite. It allows a minor to marry without parental consent if the girl is pregnant. In cases of pregnancy, the minor can disregard their parents and get permission from a judge to get married. This costs $5, the fee referred to in the NCBCPS curriculum.

For commandment #10:
Now, I'm no theologian, but from what I've gathered from the Bible experts on the History Channel, the uniqueness of this commandment is that it is the only one that is violated by thoughts alone, without any action. So, the fact that "Kentucky forbids acting upon covetousness" by means of its conspiracy laws is obviously irrelevant. It is perfectly legal to have an "illicit desire" for anything you want, and even to formulate a plan in your own head as to how you would illicitly obtain the object of your desire. Conspiracy requires acting upon a plan, and also requires that at least one other person be involved.

Previous articles in this series on the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools:

More Historical Revisionism in the NCBCPS Curriculum - 4/5/07
Historical Revisionism in the NCBCPS Curriculum - 3/31/07
Barton Revises History to Promote the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/24/07
More Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/18/07
Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/10/07

Like I said, I'm no expert on religion, but it appears to me that some of the examples used by the NCBCPS not only don't support their assertion about the laws, but distort the real meaning and intent of a few of the commandments themselves. I'd love to hear what some of the more theologically knowledgeable people here think about this.

by Chris Rodda on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 01:18:38 PM EST

A couple other things to consider. The Sabbath the Commandments refer to extends from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Kentucky's laws therefore do not protect the Sabbath. Restricting activities on Sunday must come from some Pagan beliefs they have in that state. And if they're so concerned with the Commandments, why do they forbid bigamy? There's nothing in scripture against it. And why do they allow people to get married after a divorce? Jesus himself calls this adultery. So Kentucky's laws actually condemn what the Bible approves, and approve what the Bible condemns.

by Dave on Fri Apr 13, 2007 at 09:35:25 PM EST

There is no doubt that the Ten Commandments have had a profound influence on American law. Many of the laws that we have today can be traced back to these ancient rules. For example, cheap real diamond rings online the commandment against murder is the basis for our laws against homicide. The commandment against stealing is the basis for our laws against theft. The commandment against bearing false witness is the basis for our laws against perjury.

by isabelladom on Thu Dec 29, 2022 at 01:10:42 AM EST

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