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10 Commandments are basis of U.S. law

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The hair-trigger complaining by the ACLU that the city of Ogden is "establishing" a religion by posting the Ten Commandments in its courthouse misses the much larger point for having it there in the first place.

Our society has customs, traditions and origins that connect us to our past and give us part of our identity. So it is with the Ten Commandments. Posting them in the courthouse reminds those who gather there for the business of the courts that there is a moral and ethical background to their disputes that transcends the mere letter of the law.First of all, the plaque in Ogden was presented by the Eagles Lodge, which is not a religious group. Moreover, the Ten Commandments are accepted by most people of many different faiths, including Jews and Muslims, as a guide to behavior. The only constitutional violation would occur if posting the commandments favored one particular church over all others, and that is clearly not the case here.

The ACLU knows this. What it is really seeking is censorship of anything that has religious overtones from public life. Such censorship is in fact contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which were written in part to protect religious freedom of expression.

Moreover, the Ten Commandments is part of the legal and philosophic history of Western civilization. Other such foundations of our legal system include the work of Solon, the Greek lawgiver, ca. 600 B.C., who established democratic laws for all the citizens of Athens. The ideas of democracy and citizenship grow out of this old and hallowed tradition, which is one we practice down to this day.

Another source is the Magna Carta, which was first delivered by King John of England in A.D. 1215. In doing so, he established the rights of barons, clergy and guilds vis-a-vis the king. It established the right to trial by jury, due process and the idea of Parliament. All these concepts have grown and evolved -- down to our own Constitution's creation and current legal practice.

The Ten Commandments likewise provide a rule of thumb for our legal system. Saxon or Germanic law, which preceded English Common Law, had a system of fines for the commission of murder, theft, assault, etc. But Saxon law lacked the moral and ethical dimension that Common Law grew into and which is part of our legal system today.

In an era of gangs, drive-by shootings, mushrooming drug abuse and its related crimes and decaying morality in our society in general, it should be desirable to strengthen the moral and ethical aspects of our legal and political system, not further erase them.

All people need a sense of right and wrong that transcends the mere letter of the law. This idea comes from many sources -- including religious thought in the broad sense of the word. Injecting something as pervasive as the Ten Commandments into the mix of ideas about the law does nothing to establish a public religion. Nor is it establishing a state religion or singling one religion out for state favoritism to allow religious expression its fair and rightful role in public discourse. The sad irony about the ACLU's position is that they seek to abolish religious sentiments from public policy and debate while the foundation of the Constitution itself, which they claim to protect, hangs precariously over the quicksand of our society's failing morality.

There are those who would abolish history when it becomes inconvenient to recognize its reality. We would do well to celebrate the origins of our legal system rather than snuff them out as the ACLU clamors for.

The fact is that for 3,000 years, the Ten Commandments have provided a moral and ethical framework for many countries' legal systems, including our own. America's legal system is a rich tradition created by the handiwork of many sources and individuals. We are certainly strong enough to honestly recognize our legal systems' true origins, whether they be Jewish, Greek, Roman, French, German or English.

John Houston is an attorney who resides in Salt Lake City.