PEOPLE OF FAITH have mixed feelings about the posting of the Ten Commandments in government facilities, and American Muslims are no exception. The opening clause of the First Amendment has been debated throughout American history. Does it mean that government cannot prefer religion over secularism? Does it mean that government cannot prefer one religion over other religions? Or does it just mean that the government can’t set up a state religion? The Ten Commandments come from the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament.
Some of the Commandments are purely religious (believing in God, observing the Sabbath and not worshipping idols), while others are moral in nature (prohibiting murder, theft and perjury). The Ten Commandments have been posted for decades by various government officials, who sometimes deny any religious motivation. By posting the Ten Commandments, these officials are not declaring Judaism or Christianity to be the state religion, but they are certainly demonstrating a preference for religion over secularism and for Judaism and Christianity over other faiths.
Is it permissible under the First Amendment for government officials to post a biblical document? That’s the issue the U.S. Supreme Court is wrestling with following recent oral arguments. The First Amendment is supposed to protect religious minorities, such as American Muslims, from second-class citizenship. So should American Muslims be concerned about governmental posting of the Ten Commandments? The Quran tells the story of Moses receiving tablets from God with guidance for his people. Muslims believe Moses was a prophet of God, and they believe in the message of the Ten Commandments.
It can’t hurt for Americans to be reminded about God and morality, can it? But what if, next time, a government official wants to post something that makes me feel uncomfortable? Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet of God, but what if a government official wants to post a declaration that Jesus was divine, or that Muslims are infidels? This potentially slippery slope leads me to sympathize with opponents of governmental posting of religious documents”¦ Kamran Memon, who grew up in Bethesda, is a Chicago civil rights attorney and a founder of the Muslim Bar Association of Chicago.