Home > Economics > Myth 6: American Law is based on Biblical Law.

Myth 6: American Law is based on Biblical Law.

I recently read an article called Myths about Homosexuality, America, and the Kingdom of God by Luke Dockery (lukedockery.com). While I disagree with a lot of what he has written, I can respect his interest in thinking critically about his views and supporting them with proper evidence–biblically and constitutionally. Also, I found myself agreeing with him on several points. I could spend a whole lot of words discussing each of his myths in detail, but instead I think a better approach is to add an additional myth, Myth 6, which is almost a corollary to his Myth 4.

Myth 6: Biblical Law is the foundation of American Law.

Several court houses and state houses around the country have Ten Commandments monuments. Atheist organizations often try to get these monuments removed as they claim the monuments on state property violate the establishment clause of the first amendment. I’m not arguing for or against them in this piece. That said, the argument made for the constitutionality of state sanctioned biblical monuments is that the 10 commandments are the foundation of American Law.

This is observably false, and can be shown easily.

Here are the Ten Commandments:

1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
2. You shall not make idols.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. You shall not covet.

Of the ten, only two are currently illegal–6 (killing) and 8 (stealing). If I’m being super generous, I can also through in 9 (bearing false witness) which could be likened to perjury. So, only three of the Ten Commandments are reflected in US law. Of the rest, 5 (honoring your father and mother), 7 (committing adultery), and 10 (coveting) are clearly good moral codes to strive to live your life by, but have no corresponding laws. Actually, it used to be illegal to commit adultery but as a society we’ve since determined that its better left as a private matter and the state shouldn’t get involved.

The last four, in point of fact the first four, commandments would clearly violate the First Amendment if made into law. Requiring people to believe in a specific god, the God of the Bible, clearly violates the Establishment Clause as does forcing people to not work on a specific day of the week. Prohibitions on make idols and taking the Lords name in vain violate a person’s free speech.

If you are keeping score, that’s 3 out of 10 that are encoded in law (although not killing and not stealing are laws in pretty much every society); another 3 out of 10 that are nice moral codes, but not laws; and 4 out of 10 that not only aren’t laws, but clearly violate the laws we already have.

But we were talking about gay marriage, right? That doesn’t show up in the Ten Commandments anywhere. My point in mentioning the Ten Commandments is merely to point out that simply saying, “The bible says it’s wrong,” is not sufficient justification for encoding it as US law.

However there is one place in the bible where homosexuality is expressly forbidden: Leviticus 18:22. “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” Now go ahead and read the rest of Leviticus 18. I’ll wait, here’s a link (www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus%2018
).

The whole chapter is about forbidden sexual practices, several of which are illegal (having sex with animals, sacrificing your children). However, a lot of the list is not illegal; morally deplorable maybe, but not illegal (having sex with a woman and her daughter, having sex with your neighbor’s wife, having sex with a woman during her period).

Conclusion:

If the bible were the foundation of US Law, we could reasonably expect our laws to line up fairly well with biblical laws. However, they don’t. There is some overlap, but it’s relatively small. There are a lot of biblical prohibitions that are moral failings, however aren’t against the law. And, there are several biblical laws that are flat out unconstitutional. We have accepted that some things we consider morally wrong are in fact perfectly legal.  Actions like using profanity or committing adultery aren’t punishable in courts.

Looking at homosexuality and gay marriage in this light provides some insight into how we should act. Preaching against gays getting married and against homosexuality is First Amendment protected free speech. However, denying people state sanctioned legal rights based on religious preference shouldn’t be tolerated. You are as free as possible to try to convince gay people not to get married or to not engage in homosexual acts, but making gay marriage or homosexuality illegal violates the First Amendment’s protection of the religious beliefs of others.

Not everyone agrees with your particular religious beliefs. The First Amendment protects your right to try to convince them, but it also protects their right to disagree and to not be bound by your religion unless they agree to it.

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Categories: Economics
  1. May 12, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    I’ll apologize in advance if you find it inappropriate that I respond here to a comment you made on Facebook, but you seemed to request that we not continue the discussion in that forum and then posted the comment below, so I was genuinely unsure of where to respond.

    You said (I’ve left your statements in quotation marks):

    “The takeaway message I got from Luke’s article was that being gay is against God’s will but so are a lot of other things that are actually more important. I’m not arguing with that. (Maybe that’s why you are confused) What I’m trying to do is add a corollary to his myth 4. Basically saying since we are not a Christian nation (although we are a nation of mostly Christians) we don’t make laws based on the Bible.”

    I don’t want to give the impression that God’s will on sexuality is unimportant (“more important” might imply that I don’t think it is very important), but rather, that it is on a list of a bunch of important things and shouldn’t receive undue emphasis. But I think you get what I’m saying, right?

    “Secular people have no problem with preacher Jeb getting up and preaching about homos going to Hell. We just think he’s wrong and a bit of a jackass. I wanted to highlight more clearly that the problem comes when laws start being made.”

    Well, YOU apparently don’t have a problem with it (which I think is great, by the way), but some secular people certainly do. That’s why there is lobbying going on right now, and laws on the books in the some places that would, in effect, make it a violation of law to preach what the Bible says about homosexuality. So maybe it would be more accurate to say, “Most secular people”? Honestly, it is fear of this (not being allowed to teach what we believe/what the Bible says) that drives a lot of the rhetoric on this issue from many Christians.

    “When Christians wonder why if we don’t believe we don’t just shut up about, that’s why. If it were merely an argument we would just shut up, but laws are made that clearly favor one religion over others or none. That is when we speak up.”

    And I do think we have a genuine disagreement here which is also borne out in your blog post above. It seems to me that you think that by showing that only 3 of the 10 Commandments are laws in the United States today that this proves that American Law is not based on Biblical Law. I think that is poor methodology which leads to an inaccurate conclusion.

    First, laws change over time. There used to be laws in this country which made adultery illegal and also prohibited certain kinds of work on the Sabbath (though “Sabbath” was reinterpreted through a Christian lens to mean Sunday). I am not sure about all the others, but clearly, when this country was first established, the 10 Commandments were more legally relevant than they are today. That alone should cause serious pause before using the argumentation that you did in the blog post above.

    Secondly, as I mentioned in my response on FB, an understanding and respect for Judeo-Christian moral and social values is deeply embedded in English Common Law, and thus, in our own government as it was established by the founders as well. This would include principles taken from the 10 Commandments, but also teachings on property rights, the inherent value of all people, etc.

    Related to that, it is absolutely a case of historical revisionism that many people today have tried to make “freedom of religion” to be the same thing as “freedom from religion.” They are not the same, and the founding fathers guaranteed the former, not the latter. They were absolutely fearful of the establishment of a state church, but were certainly religious themselves (In fact, the least “Christian” of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, both of whom were Deists, but believed that God had specifically ordained the circumstances enabling the American Revolution).

    Defining “marriage” as being between a man and a woman in no way establishes a state church, and thus would not have been objectionable to the founders (they would, however, have been shocked by modern attempts to redefine the definition of marriage; times change, right?). From an historical perspective, I fail to understand how it could be argued otherwise. Now, certainly you could argue that we are not bound by what the founders thought, or that over time, we are free to tweak “freedom of religion” to mean “freedom from religion”, but those are very different arguments.

    The really ironic thing is that, at the point that governments recognized “marriage” as a legal thing, “freedom from religion” was already destroyed because “marriage” is an inherently religious practice. If the same rights were granted to “civil unions” as are to “marriage” (tax benefits, end of life decisions, etc.), and “civil unions” became the domain of the state and “marriage” became the domain of the church/mosque/temple/synagogue, a lot of the debate would cease immediately.

    I am aware that we are coming from very different places, and that neither of us is likely to change our opinion based on an internet comment. Still, I felt compelled to respond because I thought your analysis was somewhat lacking in historical perspective (and I don’t mean that to sound condescending; sometimes it is hard to convey tone in this medium).

    This is your space; thanks for allowing me to comment. I’ll let you get the last word in. 😉

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