Op-Ed

Counties deserve commandments tab

Tony Sammons is a Lexington lawyer.
Tony Sammons is a Lexington lawyer.

History professor James L. Hood's apologetic defense of the McCreary and Pulaski fiscal courts' poor decision-making skills failed to achieve his intended goal.

His apparent goal was to make the repeated attempts of these two groups of local politicians to post the Ten Commandments in their county courthouses seem logical and understandable.

Their actions were not.

The American Civil Liberties Union did not drain these counties of funds. The fiscal court members did that on their own.

Anyone living in Kentucky for any length of time has seen similar legal contests and how they typically have ended.

The magistrates of the McCreary and Pulaski fiscal courts knew they were picking a fight and knew — or should have known — fights cost money, particularly if you lose.

The magistrates did not care that the law prohibited espousing one faith above all others or none.

They made their intent quite clear, an intent that can effectively be summarized as: "We've got to put up some other historical documents to make our intent appear neutral, but we're really invoking God. Wink, wink."

But the inclusion of religion into government is unwise, and our founders understood that very well. This was the reason they included the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, prohibiting government support of any particular religion.

As a historian, Hood might recall the words of Benjamin Franklin, who in 1730 wrote, "A man compounded of Law and Gospel is able to cheat a whole country with his Religion, and then destroy them under Colour of Law."

Franklin's concerns were well-founded. The reason politicians so love to insert God into government is that they hope to gain or retain power — not power in the next life, but temporal, material power in this one.

They are hoping for votes and campaign money, and they believe pandering to the majority of their constituency will help them retain their jobs and influence.

They do not care about the rule of law or the rights of their constituents. All people of faith, or without faith, should be just as concerned as Franklin when they see their government crossing the line between church and state.

The flaws in Hood's logic become most apparent in his closing paragraph, where he writes that the ACLU essentially is trying to dictate and define what Americans should think. He has the situation backward.

As I understand the ACLU, and I am not a member, it is tolerant of everyone's right to think what he or she wants.

The problem instead arises when a handful of lawmakers decide they want to ignore the federal and state constitutions and insert religion into government.

They are the ones trying to dictate what everyone believes, not the other way around. History shows also that the insertion of statements about God or the invocation of God's will does not make a government any more noble, does not make its policies more wise or just, and does not give it the power to survive challenges to its governance any more resolutely.

The Preamble to the Constitution of the Confederate States of America invoked "the favor and guidance of Almighty God" when founding that government in 1861. That government failed, and thankfully so.

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