A New Commandment For Politicians

Thou Shalt Not Be A Hypocrite

I have now been linked in a national newspaper to U.S. Rep. Gary Condit. I did not seek the notoriety, but accept it as an inevitable consequence of being an opinionated person.

In the July 13 edition of the Los Angeles Times, columnist Steve Lopez wrote a piece entitled "Condit Miserably Fails 10 Commandments Test." Noting that Condit voted exactly two summers ago to permit display of the Ten Commandments in schools, Lopez resuscitated a media comment of mine.

"'Congress probably should spend more time obeying the Ten Commandments and less time trying to exploit them for crass political purposes,' Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said at the time."

Observed Lopez, "Prophetic observation, you might say. Especially given the fact that each day, Condit seems to tread the boundaries of yet another commandment in the continuing saga of missing intern Chandra Levy."

I like that "prophetic" part. Sometimes it is nice to be referred to in a positive light. After all, I get a lot of the other kind of characterization. The conservative Catholic magazine Crisis has launched an entire fundraising campaign with my face on the outside of the envelope alongside the provocative blurb: "Do you know who this guy is?...He's the leader of the war against religion."

The letter inside says a lot of unpleasant things about Americans United and me, but is kind enough to mention that I am "a pleasant-looking fellow" who "can be witty." That's kind of a compliment, isn't it?

I'm afraid I really don't have what you might call a traditional "gift of prophecy," but I like to think that reflections on the future are better informed the more the observer knows about the past. You can't live long in Washington without hearing a lot of tales and then discovering that many of them are true about the temptation of government leaders to regularly proclaim a "moral vision" for America, even as they don bliners themselves.

It turns out they are often really articulating the goals for the rest of us to strive for, and then rather consciously ignoring those same rules for themselves. That is sometimes referred to as hypocrisy and is the subject of a lot of negative comment in many holy scriptures around the world.

Nonetheless, it appears we are in for more Ten Commandments shenanigans in both Washington and Alabama. As this magazine went to press, U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama was preparing to introduce "The Ten Commandments Defense Act" to "allow the states...to display the Ten Commandments" in public buildings.

Aderholt alleges the action is permitted under his peculiar interpretation of the Tenth Amendment. Apparently he has not noticed that this kind of legal argument has never prevailed about any constitutional prohibition against an establishment of religion or censoring a free press or any other portion of the Bill of Rights.

The ever-inventive Judge Roy Moore, also of Alabama and now its elected chief justice of the Supreme Court, is also itching for a new fight over the Ten Commandments. You may recall that he fought a long legal battle over a hand-carved Decalogue displayed behind his judicial bench a few years ago. Moore has now unilaterally decided to place a two-and-a-half ton monument in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building that contains a version of the Commandments along with other symbols of what he views as our suppressed Christian heritage.

In his speech announcing this placement, Moore insisted, "It is axiomatic that to restore morality we must first recognize the source from which all morality springs."

Far from axiomatic, his assertion that nonbelievers cannot possibly be moral actors is an affront to millions of Americans. Moreover, the notion that without government approval, specific religious texts will have less persuasive power is the height of insult to adherents of the Commandments who have managed to learn about them without being informed by Moore and other third-rate politicians.

It is my "prophetic" view that he will soon face a legal action that will successfully challenge this sneer at the foundations of our Constitution, and unfortunately give Moore martyr status for another run for public office.

Last but not least, Jerry Falwell has now also launched some kind of "spiritual civil disobedience" campaign urging people to preach the gospel of Jesus even when forbidden to do so (that is, when courts say the government is helping them do it).

On a recent appearance on WABC in New York, I suggested he take his crusade to Afghanistan where Christian missionaries are being jailed for violating the Taliban government's edict that makes preaching any non-Islamic religion a capital offense.

That would demonstrate real commitment, and parenthetically, show how dangerous theocracies are. His rather strange response was that he had preached around the world, including Russia. I observed that the rubber was meeting the road right now in one nation of incredible repression.

I have not sent him a plane ticket, because I really don't think he wants to learn about "martyrdom" up close and personal. He prefers to be his own homemade "victim," just like Roy Moore.

Barry W. Lynn is executive director of
Americans United for Separation of Church and State.