Meigs and the commandments

Meigs and the commandments

April 18th, 2011 in Opinion Times

The Meigs County Commission voted last week to accept a display of the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence in the county courthouse. It's a decision clearly favored by a majority of those at the meeting and most likely in the county, but the vote could put the county at odds with the judicial system over the legality of posting the commandments in a public building.

There is established precedent governing the display of the Ten Commandments in such a setting. Courts have ruled that doing so violates the constitutional prohibition against an establishment of religion by the government. That's not a popular sentiment in many places - including, obviously, Meigs County. The issue, however, does not rise or fall on the basis of popularity.

Universal praise and acceptance does not make the decision to post the Ten Commandments a correct one. In a democratic nation where principle rather than popular opinion should prevail, the law should be honored. By giving its approval last week, the Meigs County Commission surrendered its obligation to uphold the law in order to placate well-meaning individuals who want to impose their personal faith and beliefs on others.

That directly contradicts the vision of the nation's Founding Fathers. Those who wrote the Constitution were men of faith, for the most part, but they instinctively understood the dangers of a state-approved religion, and of permitting those who adhere to a majority religion to impose their beliefs over a minority. Proponents of the Ten Commandments plaque in Meigs County might not view the commission's approval in that light, but the truth is that religion and any action that seems to support it are properly the act of the individual and not publicly elected officials.

At least one county official - citing the 1,800 signatures on a petition to display the commandments and the joyous approval of the commission at its meeting - seems unworried about a legal challenge. He should be. Defending such a lawsuit - whether it is won or lost - could cost the county and its taxpayers tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's an expense no county should have to bear.

Meigs' commissioners should rethink their position. All say they defend the Constitution and the principles therein. In approving the display of the Ten Commandments, they've chosen to ignore those principles. The commission should rescind its vote. Doing so would reaffirm the precedent that government should play no role in religion.