You may have heard about the new law in Louisiana requiring that the Ten Commandments be posted in classrooms. The news has stirred up a lot of controversy over the role of faith and religion in public life.

A lot of people are saying, “What about separation of church and state?” 

First, that phrase does not appear in the Constitution. The first amendment only says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It is possible to educate people about religion, or even promote it, without “establishing” it.

Second, the Ten Commandments are not just a “Christian” thing. Jews and Muslims also believe in the Ten Commandments since all three religions trace their roots back through Moses to Abraham. Combined that is maybe 1/2 to 2/3 of the world’s population. So if the Ten Commandments are displayed in a classroom, which religion does that “establish” exactly?

Third, unlike Buddhism, Satanism, etc., Christianity has a unique and prominent place in American history. The Bible played a significant role in the ideas and events that shaped America, including its government. Educating students about the basics of the Bible has valid educational value from a historical and cultural perspective.

Finally, while it is true the Founders were wary of church and state joining hands, they did not intend to bleach all religious influence from public life. In fact they saw Christianity and the Bible as net positives for Society. 

For example, on Sept. 12, 1782 Congress passed a resolution endorsing the printing and distribution of Bibles for the good of the people. They called it a "pious and laudable undertaking" and "an instance of the progress of arts in this country."

While he was President, Thomas Jefferson attended church services IN the Capitol building. He was not a true Bible believer but religious observance was so deeply woven into the culture that even the skeptic Jefferson felt it appropriate to go to church. Services were held in the Capitol.

The Federal government did not have much influence over schools until 1867, when President Andrew Johnson signed legislation for a Department of Education. Even then, the Department remained fairly small until it was expanded under Jimmy Carter in 1980. Up until then education was managed locally. Many schools were affiliated with a church and their funding came from a combination of church donations and state taxes. Many early schools and churches even met in the same building. The Bible was regularly taught in schools, along with the McGuffy Reader, a book packed with biblical imagery, stories, passages, and lessons. It sold 120 million copies between 1839 and 1920.

The Supreme Court was fine with this arrangement for well over 100 years. Christian education was viewed as a net positive for society. It is only in modern times that the first amendment was re-interpreted to mean that religion is bad and therefore all religious influence must be erased from public life. 

The pendulum has now swung so far that we are now told “Tolerance is a virtue”, “Diversity is our strength,” and “Stop shoving religion down people’s throats”. Yet many of those same voices are trying to push their beliefs on everyone else, and using the power of government to do it.

It is a myth that government and schools can be morally neutral. Somebody’s values will be taught and promoted. The question is, who’s?