Command For Congress

Thou Shalt Not Meddle With Matters Of Faith

Cal Thomas is starting to make sense.

Now that's a statement you don't see often in Church & State -- and with good cause. Thomas is an acerbic right-wing newspaper columnist who helped launch the Moral Majority, and he often attacks public education with reckless abandon.

But on some of the other "culture wars" issues, Thomas is increasingly questioning the Religious Right's party line. Most recently, he criticized the House of Representatives for approving a measure encouraging public schools to post the Ten Commandments.

There are so many things wrong with the House proposal that it's hard to know where to begin. It violates the Constitution's church-state separation provisions, entangles government in sacred realms where it does not belong and exploits a religious text for crass political purposes. All of that is bad enough.

But Thomas zeroed in on another aspect that should not be overlooked: "Hanging the Ten Commandments in a school classroom without doing the grunt work of parenthood is like hanging a talisman around your neck, hoping it will cure a cancer," he wrote.

Merely slapping the Ten Commandments -- or any other religious or ethical code -- on a schoolroom wall won't achieve much. To have meaning, these rules of conduct have to be interpreted and explained, especially to impressionable young minds. And that job belongs to parents in consultation with the religious or philosophical leaders of their choosing.

Religion is not some sort of silver bullet to be employed by the state at will to ward off whatever evil du jour is deemed to be menacing our republic. If religion is to be meaningful, it must cultivated voluntarily in the hearts and minds of believers. State-sponsored, coercive religious displays and worship services can never be meaningful and never truly come from the heart.

Leave promotion of the Ten Commandments, the Five Pillars of Islam, the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, the Wiccan Rede, the Affirmations of Humanism and all the other religious/philosophical codes to the adherents of these communities. The Constitution gives members of Congress no authority over religious matters, and they ought to mind their own business.

It's refreshing to see Thomas, a man who was once in the employ of Jerry Falwell, speaking common sense on these matters. Now if only we could bring Cal around on public schools....