The Ten Commandments and the Fourteenth Amendment

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Abstract: Proponents of civic displays of the Ten Commandments in the United States sometimes claim that such displays are justified because the Ten Commandments are foundational to American law. The Decalogue text represented in such displays typically omits Exodus 20:1–2, the verses in which God self-identifies as the God who brought Israel out of servitude in Egypt. This omission parallels a similar move that pushes the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution into the margins of American constitutionalism. Suppressing from view the context of the law’s meaning and authority in the movement from servitude to redemption, the civic displays resist one possible sense in which the Ten Commandments are indeed foundational.

Biography: Ronald Garet is Carolyn Craig Franklin Professor of Law and Religion at the University of Southern California Law School.  He received his B.A. magna cum laude from Harvard (1973), his Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale (1981), and his J.D. from the University of Southern California Law School (1981).  His fields are theological ethics and constitutional law.  He has written about methods of textual interpretation in both fields, the authority of the Biblical and constitutional text, and the meaning of narratives of creation and redemption in American constitutionalism.  His articles include “Gnostic Due Process,” “Judges as Prophets,” “Meaning and Ending,” “Natural Law and Creation Stories,” “Comparative Normative Hermeneutics,” and “Communality and Existence.”  He is currently writing about blessings, and about points of intersection between theological and legal conceptions of the person.

Volume 4, Number 4 (Fall 2009) pp. 397–414