An Alabama lawmaker announced Thursday his desire to erect a monument to the Ten Commandments at a county courthouse, arguing that the religious moral code deserves a memorial for “historical” reasons and that the proposal “has nothing to do with religion.”
Tim Guffey, a Republican county commissioner in Jackson county, Alabama, told AL.com that he would like to create a monument to “historical documents” at a courthouse in downtown Scottsboro. The hypothetical monument would feature the Bible’s Ten Commandments beside reconstructions of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
“What I’m trying to do is erect a monument of historical documents,” Guffey told AL.com. “It’s the Constitution, the Ten Commandments and the Declaration of Independence. I feel like that’s what this country was founded on. These documents helped America become the greatest country in history.”
Guffey did not elaborate as to why the suggested monument wouldn’t include other famous historical legal codes, such as the Code of Hammurabi, the English Magna Carta, the Iroquois Great Law of Peace, or even the U.S. Bill of Rights, all of which have been cited by scholars, U.S. Congress, and even U.S. Presidents as deeply influential to the creation of America’s justice system. Instead, Guffey argued that the Ten Commandments were uniquely important to the construction of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
“The Ten Commandments is a historical document (in this context) and it has nothing to do with religion,” he said. “It shows that these founders had great beliefs in God and the Ten Commandments and His Word and it helped them get to the point where they were. And I feel like taking that document out, if that document wasn’t there to guide them, then our Constitution wouldn’t be what it is today…But I don’t see how I could do the other two and not do that one and be truthful about it.”
Conservatives have long contended that the legal perspective of America’s Founding Fathers was almost exclusively grounded in Christianity, often arguing that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are supposedly inherently “Christian” documents (this despite the fact that Thomas Jefferson, the chief author of the Declaration of Independence, had complex and often deeply ambivalent views on the Bible and religion). But Guffey’s insistence that the Ten Commandments be respected as a historically influential code appears to be part of a new trend among conservatives to appeal to history when introducing explicitly Christian symbols into public spaces. Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, recently developed a four-year curriculum for public high schools that casts the Bible as, among other things, a book that shaped America’s legal framework — including the Declaration of Independence. The curriculum, which has already been approved by an Oklahoma school board, would ostensibly be taught from a secular perspective, but Green said in a April 2013 speech that he hopes the course will teach students that the Bible’s impact, “whether (upon) our government, education, science, art, literature, family … has been good.”
Guffey expressed a similar belief when explaining the rationale behind his potential monument, telling AL.com, “They don’t teach this at school anymore.”
Alabama has a long history of debates over whether or not to display the list of laws said to be handed down by God to Moses in the biblical Exodus story. In 2001, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore erected a Ten Commandments monument in the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building, a move that ultimately resulted in his removal from office. In addition, members of the Alabama legislature have debated a number of bills in recent years to amend the state’s Constitution and allow for the display of the Ten Commandments on public property. The most recent “Ten Commandments Bill” was introduced in February, passing through the state House of Representatives before halting in the Senate. Lawmakers supported the bill reportedly defended it using a number of bizarre arguments, such as blaming school shootings, patricide, and matricide on society’s failure to display the Ten Commandments in schools and other government buildings.
An earlier version of this piece denoted Thomas Jefferson as the chief author of the U.S. Constitution. Although Jefferson’s ideas undoubtedly influenced the construction of the Constitution, he was actually abroad during the Constitutional Convention, and is more accurately remembered as the architect of the Declaration of Independence.