The Ten Commandments in school classrooms – what could go wrong?

Some Christians want the government to force the Ten Commandments to be displayed in all school classrooms. What could go wrong? I must say, it’s probably easier to consider, what could go right!

The Ten Commandments in school classrooms - what could go wrong?

The stone in the adjacent image doesn’t exactly quote the Ten Commandments.

But then, different denominations don’t even agree on what they are!

Plus, different Bible translations don’t use the same words either.

So that’s our first two things that could and will go wrong, and we really haven’t even gotten started yet. What could go wrong indeed!

The Ten Commandments – Exodus

1. You shall have no other gods before me.

Ex 20:3 You shall have no other gods before me.

That’s pretty general. Who’s going to decide which god this is about?

Before you say it’s obvious that it’s the Christian God of the Bible, hold on just a moment. This verse is from Exodus. The Old Testament. However, more properly, it’s Jewish Scripture. The Torah. Now, keep this in mind. to Jews, Jesus is not the Son of God. He’s not, as they say, Messiah. So, right off the bat, are we going to force Jewish teachers to talk about how their scripture points to Jesus, the Son of God, when they don’t believe it? Isn’t that problem with freedom of religion?

If we decide that is a problem, then let’s move on to Muslims. Muslims also read the first five books of the Christian Old Testament. AKA the Torah. And yet, they believe it’s about Allah. Allah doesn’t have a Son either. So now are we going to also force Muslims to answer questions from students with answers that reflect Christian beliefs?

And what about atheists? They don’t believe in God. How are they going to answer?

Is freedom of religion going to be repealed from the U.S. Constitution?

2. You shall have no graven images

Ex 20:4 You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

In other words, don’t do anything like what the Israelites did with the golden calf while Moses was receiving the original stones with these ten commandments on them.

This sounds straightforward. But it’s not. For instance, some people think the Catholic Crucifix that people wear is such an image. Why? Well, the Protestant cross does not have Jesus hanging on it. The reasoning is that Jesus is risen, so He shouldn’t be on the cross.

I used to wear the Catholic cross, even after I converted to a Protestant Denomination. Why continue wearing it? Because it was a reminder to me of what Jesus had to go through because of my sins. Ultimately, the only reason I stopped wearing it is the same reason I can’t wear my wedding ring. Continual contact with any metal seems to give me a rash – whether it’s gold, silver, platinum, whatever.

So, at least one issue here is exactly what a graven image is. One person’s graven image could mean something entirely different to someone else. And that’s even within the broader religion definitions.

3. Don’t take the name of God in vain

Ex 20:7 You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

For some reason, many people seem to think this is only about swearing. That’s swearing, as in cuss words. By definition then, which words are unacceptable per the third commandment will differ depending on the religion we’re talking about.

This takes us back to the question of who gets to define which religion’s words cannot be used in certain situations, because it’s considered taking them in vain. And then we get into the issue of some teacher having to go against their own religion when they don’t agree with the chosen names from the government entity that put the Ten Commandments up on the wall.

After that, then we get into all the other scenarios where different religions have differing ideas as to what taking something in vain means.

As you can see, we’re still only on the third commandment and there’s a need for some pretty intense religious training for every teacher. What could go wrong with that?

4. Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy

Ex 20:8 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

One obvious question arises immediately. When is the Sabbath? Sunday? Friday? Saturday? Does it begin one day in the evening and then end the next day?

Is any of these going to be simple?

5. Honor your father and mother

Ex 20:12 Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

What if you only have one parent? Or what if your parents got divorced and both remarried? Then you have two parents and two step-parents. Maybe there was more than one divorce?

But then, what if there are two fathers and no mother? Two mothers and no father? Or a divorce from one of those situations?

It’s so messy. And yet, that’s not even the most difficult part of this verse!

No, the hard part is one we don’t even pay attention to. At least most Christians in Western countries don’t. But think about this part: so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you

Thousands of years later, Jews and Muslims are still, literally, fighting over who the land in the Middle East belongs to.

Can you even imagine the can of worms opened up by having this verse hanging on the wall of every classroom, while Jewish and Muslim teachers try to explain it from a Christian point of view?

What could possibly go right?

6. You should not kill

Good grief. The stone in the image didn’t even get this one right! Here’s the actual verse.

Ex 20:13 You shall not murder.

You do realize, I hope, there’s a difference between killing someone and murdering them? There is such a thing as self-defense.

I’m kidding here, I hope, but I wonder if people will fight to the death over this one? In some stand-your-ground states, it’s even possible to pretty much get away with murder, from the legal point of view in that state. And it’s especially true with a certain combination of skin colors in some neighborhoods.

I don’t believe that’s what this was intended to be. But it is what we’ve turned it into.

7. You shall not commit adultery

Ex 20:14 You shall not commit adultery.

This is another messy one.

I can’t find agreement on which states have statutes against adultery. There seems to be at least 16 of them. Having said that, based on recent pushes by Christian conservatives, that number may go up.

In a rather ironic twist, gay and lesbian couples in some states cannot be guilty of adultery, per se, because they cannot get married.

In any case, there are a whole lot of people who have affairs. As for divorce rates, check this out:

Marriage and divorce are both common experiences for adults, although both can be challenging. About 90% of people in Western cultures enter either heterosexual or same-sex marriages by age 50. In the United States, between 35%-50% of first-time marriages end in divorce, increasing to approximately 60% for second marriages and 70+% for marriages after the second. This gives the US one of the highest divorce rates in the world. Divorces can be emotionally and financially difficult, and can greatly impact not only the divorcees but also their children.  1Divorce rates from

That means about half of the teachers who might get asked about the seventh commandment will be condemning themselves silently, or explaining why their particular situation wasn’t a sin (in their minds).

8. You shall not steal

Ex 20:15 You shall not steal.

Uh oh. In a culture where a night out for some people is getting a group of strangers to have a social media guided flash mob to go in and steal everything they can get from a store, this isn’t going to go over well at all.

I can just see it. Someone asks about the eighth commandment. Half the class starts to snicker, because they know that the “penalty” for stealing, at least in this life, is that you make money selling the spoils of your plunder on eBay.

Not to mention, porch-thieves, fraud related to government aid for poor people, individuals shoplifting, employees taking things out the back door, all the way up to politicians who make fortunes selling their votes.

This is a culture of stealing. And murdering. And getting away with it, unless you happen to be the wrong color or don’t have the right friends to get you off.

Do we really want that kind of discussion in classrooms?

9. You shall not bear false witness

Ex 20:16 You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Today, it seems more likely that we won’t give true witness against our neighbor because they’ll take revenge.

I’ve been in situations where I had to testify at trials, and you see this happen. It’s pretty much always false witness against someone – otherwise there’s no need for a trial.

It feels like no one pleads guilty anymore, even if there’s huge numbers of witnesses and video evidence. And it makes sense, sort of. It is false witness about themselves. But going in with a not-guilty plea leads to at least some kind of deal, if for no other reason than to speed up the process of justice by avoiding a trial. Justice isn’t served, but it’s expedient.

On the other hand, filing a false claim, which I’ve also seen, can bring expediency to the forefront again. It can be cheaper, and faster, to just pay something for a false claim, than to fight it. Attorney costs and the time for people to testify all add up. So settlement payments might come just to avoid all the disruptions associated with fighting a false claim.

So again, we’re in a culture where bearing false witness can pay.

10. You shall not covet

Ex 20:17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Seriously? What happened to I want it all and I want it now!

Merely coveting something isn’t enough anymore. We actually must have what we covet. The fact that it belongs to someone else is irrelevant. We can always steal it. The reality that we can’t afford it is also irrelevant. We can always buy it on credit, and then declare bankruptcy. Or just flat out steal it.

If someone starts to talk about the problem of wanting something and not being able to have it, can you even imagine how many others will the person they have the right, in America, to have whatever they want? And should do whatever it takes to get it.

What could go wrong?

Do you think displaying the Ten Commandments in classrooms could never happen in America?

Think again. Check out the article at Texas lawmaker says the Supreme Court cleared the way to force schools to display the Ten Commandments in every classroom.

It may very well happen in Texas. And I have a feeling, when it happens in one state, others will rush to do the same.

Here’s the thinking behind it:

“[The bill] will remind students all across Texas of the importance of the fundamental foundation of America,” King said at an April committee hearing regarding his bill, Senate Bill 1515, The Texas Tribune reported.

One immediate problem with that kind of thinking is that it’s not necessarily true. Not everyone who came to the place we now call America was Christian. Those who were already here, before the first Europeans, were not Christian. And let’s face it, not all the founders of this country were Christian either.

However, it gets worse. Many of those who came here, who were Christian, came here to escape the King’s version of Christianity. So what are we doing now? Instituting yet another governmental version of Christianity!

What could go wrong? It didn’t work before. So why wouldn’t it work now? But wait, isn’t that the definition of insanity, so to speak? Doing the same thing, over and over, and somehow expecting a different result?

Conclusion – The Ten Commandments in school classrooms – what could go wrong?

Christians are called to be different. But different in a certain way. We’re supposed to be an example of following Jesus. And by doing that, we’re supposed to act in a way that others want to follow. Other than authoritarian Christians who follow their political leader’s version of Christianity, who wants to be like that?

In other words, what happened to love?

And what happened to salvation being a free gift from God? Not a legislated mandate from the government. But then, even if we do that, God doesn’t honor our false versions of salvation. What are we thinking?

Are we thinking?

Are we loving? That is, loving anyone but the God we made in our image when we do things like this?

Image by Angi Yowell from Pixabay

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