Texas’ House recently ended its biennial session considering—but not voting on—a Senate-passed bill. It would require all Texas public-school classrooms to post the Ten Commandments. This is as troubling as it is unsurprising. 

Said Texas State Sen. Mayes Middleton (R), “There is absolutely no separation of God and government, and that’s what these bills are about.”

Michelle Boorstein commented in The Washington Post (May 24), “Groups that watch church-state issues say efforts nationwide to fund and empower religion — and, more specifically, a particular type of Christianity — are more plentiful and aggressive than they have been in years.” 

The Ten Commandments bill would disregard many Christians who support separation of church and state. It would force a Christian perspective on secular and non-Christian Texans. 

It also raises a key issue: Whose Ten Commandments would be posted?

The versions of the Ten Commandments appearing in synagogues and churches come from Exodus 20. (Other versions appear in Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 5.) But let’s examine the First Commandment, given in Exodus 20:2–3. The Jewish version: 2) “I the Lord am Your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: 3) You shall have no other gods besides Me.” 

Jewish and Christian commentators have wondered whether verse 2 is part of the First Commandment or a preamble. Still, “I the Lord am Your God who . . .” remains part of the Jewish First Commandment. Most Protestants: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Catholics and Lutherans: “I the Lord am Your God. You shall have no other gods besides Me.”

For Jews, the reference to the Exodus from Egypt plays a critical role in Jewish history and liturgy. But St. Paul sought new Christians from among the Gentiles and steered them away from Torah towards salvation by faith.

The Ten Commandments posted in public places are always Christian versions. This ignores Jews. Muslims revere the Hebrew Bible, but Islam believes that the Jews passed on many errors in their manuscripts. Islam, according to the Qu’ran, is a call not to a new religion but a return to the original, pure monotheism of Abraham.

Non-Abrahamic religions may follow the ethical laws of the Ten Commandments, such as to honor one’s father and mother and not to murder, but the Ten Commandments do not appear in their scriptures. 

Still, many Texas legislators and Christians around the nation believe they have the right—indeed, the duty—to impose their religious views on all Americans. Forcing Judaism on others has never occupied a dominant position among Jews. The Torah (Exodus 23 and Numbers 34) delineates Israel’s borders. While Israelites are commanded to follow all 613 commandments (impossible for a single individual; also, many no longer apply without the Temple), they are not to force their religion on others and stay within their borders. As I wrote in God’s Others, Judaism is the particularistic religion of a universalistic God. Other peoples are free to worship God in their own way.

Posting the Ten Commandments in public places throughout America doesn’t present a new issue. It promotes the age-old problem of one religion or religious denomination imposing itself on others. 

May the Texas legislature take a step back and recognize the problems it may again bring forward.

The Short (Pun Intended) Redemptive Life of Little Ned is now available in softcover or e-book from Amazonbarnesandnoble.com, and iuniverse.com. Or order from your favorite bookstore.

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