Question: Examining The Ten Commandments Controversy

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
What is one of your unpopular opinions?

Over the past ten years, there have been movements that attempt to extract the Ten Commandments from courthouses. I am against removing the Ten Commandments. I think we should add all types of philosophy to courthouses in no particularly hierarchical fashion. The idea of eliminating Ten Commandments monuments is essentially the removal of a type of literature, art, and philosophy. I think we should add quotes from the Quran, Torah, Tao Te Ching, the whole big shabang of holy books to courthouses. Let’s get crazy and add Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh while we’re at it.


In all seriousness though, I do think we should add more culturally diverse influences to the art and literature aesthetic of courthouses. This means expanding beyond just political quotes and portraits of dead white Presidents.

There are a couple of reasons that this might be considered an unpopular opinion:

  1. Adverse Public Reaction
  2. Separation of Church and State
  3. Arbitrary Decision Making & Favoritism

The repercussions of this idea have to be considered equally.

Adverse Public Reaction

In 2013, I remember reading news articles about atheists unveiling a monument in front of a Florida courthouse and feeling excited. However, my excitement soon faded. The protests against the monument didn’t stop for a time. Some bloggers were even criticizing the local news agencies for not doing a more accurate report on the public backlash.


Photo Credit: Matt Stamey,  Washington Post

This is one of my biggest fears when it comes to introducing more philosophies inside (or outside) courthouses. It could easily invite intolerance. It’s the mindset of “How dare you desecrate the word of my God by putting that filth alongside scripture?” To some viewers, it wouldn’t matter if both sets of scripture were equally uplifting or viable as long as it came from a different faith system. Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s wise to view this idea of implementing multiple documents and art pieces as unassailable. Giving movements or ideas the title of “unassailable” is a dismissive practice. (I am looking at you, Salon reporters.) It gives oppressors the power to control someone’s actions. Civil rights, for example, were probably once viewed as being “unassailable.”

If you’re using the word unassailable right now, it better have an economic basis. And even then, I’m not sure that I will agree with you entirely. (Side note: Can you imagine reading this “Local Economic Professors Riot: Karl Marx Quote Engraved At Courthouse” as a news headline? Too funny. Finance junkies, unite!)

Separation of Church and State

When asked, a majority of my secular friends said they were for the removal of the Ten Commandments, because they wanted to keep the church and state separate. Having the Ten Commandments posted at the courthouse was thus an invitation for the church to enter the judicial system. This makes complete sense to me, but I don’t like the idea of removing literature or art from courthouses. It just sounds too much like something from a dsytopian novel. Likewise, only having one philosophy represented sounds a lot like a dystopian novel too.


Conceptually, the idea of promoting diversity relies on acceptance and respect. This means understanding the ways in which everyone is unique but also the same. Courthouses, a model built on the idea of corrective education and justice, could become a venue for nurturing diversity. They could further develop into an empirically stimulating advocate for the promotion of understanding, moving beyond tolerance, and embracing the cultural richness of various worldviews and philosophies.

None of this is to say that I am espousing some flagrant ideas about adopting multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is a whole other ballpark, my friends.

Arbitrary Decision Making & Favoritism

Arbitrary decision making and favoritism is the argument that the people choosing the quotes from literature and soliciting the art pieces would only select ones that supports their personal ideas. A courthouse, for instance, might choose theologically-based rules or quotes that make people feel guilty. This repercussion can be seen in the ACLU v. McCreary County court case. A Ten Commandments display was challenged by the people, so the courthouse added more text that referenced religion and God. The display was later declared unconstitutional, because the County only chose documents that expressed favoritism toward religious mindsets. It didn’t include any type of secular representation.

At the end of the day though, all I’m really talking about are matters of interior design which makes me feel kind of silly.

If you would like to submit a question or blog topic, feel free to visit my Ask Box and fill out an anonymous form there. Thank you, Anon! This was a great question. Writing this blog entailed communicating with some old friends, and I appreciated reconnecting with them. All the love.
– Sarah Key


  1. @Ghanta_Claus · August 7, 2014

    I’m still going to say no, but not because of unassailable thoughts!
    As long as there is tradition out there overruling the court system, they will view the minor success of having the 10 commandments posted as a type of way to defeat “zealots.” I like the presentation of this idea… It makes me think about the different ways in which the courthouse centralizes around American thoughts and comfortably likes to stay inside that box.

  2. D. Eaton · August 7, 2014

    This courthouse NEEDS more Bob Ross.

  3. Catholic Tap House · August 7, 2014

    My city’s court house was built in the early 1900’s. It’s an early Italian Renaissance style building and one of the nicest buildings in the city…. Plus there are huge murals inside the Founding Fathers and judges when the building was finished…. And I don’t think the Ten Commandments are posted there, but it’s become so common that I may have glanced over it.

    I can’t imagine that type of building incorporating new styles unless inside the actual court rooms that are contemporary. A Buddha statue would look silly next to a classical French style mural. ;-) but that doesn’t mean that Buddhist monuments shouldn’t be in place either, right?

    And it’s hard for me to say if this city would be supportive of the idea but probably not. We have a huge Catholic presence and I think it wouldn’t go over well…. Way worse than your Marxist ideas! Hahaha.

    This is a GOOD idea and something I hadn’t thought about. I never knew about the atheist monument either. Would the atheist monument be considered inclusive?

    • Sarah Key · August 9, 2014

      I am not sure if I understand your question exactly, but I don’t think an atheist monument would be considered all inclusive. A secular monument would likely be thought about as a bit more comprehensive, because it would have the potential to represent humanists, agnostics, atheists, naturalists, rationalists, skeptics, universalists, and so forth.

      • Catholic Tap House · August 9, 2014

        My fellow theologians LOVE this idea. :-)

  4. LAMarcom · August 17, 2014

    “At the end of the day though, all I’m really talking about are matters of interior design which makes me feel kind of silly”

    Sarah, you make me smile.
    Great post.

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