Mike Huckabee on the Source of Our Laws

24 December 2007

Mike Huckabee recently made this claim in an MSNBC interview:

"The Ten Commandments form the basis of most of our laws and therefore, you know if you look through them does anybody find anything there that would be all that objectionable? I don't think most people would if they actually read them."
This claim is pretty easy to refute. In fact, Ed Brayton has already done it:
Of the ten commandments, only two would even be constitutional in the United States, with a third being constitutional in limited circumstances. The other 7 could not possibly be the basis for any law because they would be clearly unconstitutional. Let's take a look at them one by one:

1. Thou shall have no other Gods before me.

Blatantly unconstitutional. The free exercise clause of the first amendment guarantees that we each have the right to follow any God and any religious belief system we wish.

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.

Also unconstitutional on free exercise grounds. Americans can make any graven image they wish to make, and bow down to whatever god or idol they wish.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain

Unconstitutional on both freedom of religion and free speech grounds.

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy

Again, unconstitutional on free exercise grounds.

5. Honour thy father and thy mother

A good idea, in most cases, but a law requiring it would be unconstitutional and outside the purview of government. You can't legally enforce an individual's feelings toward their parents.

6. Thou shalt not kill

This one is obviously constitutional, and is a part of our legal system. But it's also found in EVERY legal system, even those that have nothing to do with the bible or Christianity. No society can condone murder of each other and survive, so this is simply a survival imperative.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery

Another one that is a good idea, but not constitutional if legally enforced. Adultery is a moral wrong, but it's a private matter between individuals.

8. Thou shalt not steal

This is the second one that is obviously constitutional, but also found in every legal system regardless of the religious system that may have initially spawned it. A universal imperative that would be part of the law even if the bible never existed.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour

Some have interpreted this to be analagous to our perjury laws, but nothing in the text indicates that. It's talking about lying in general, not in a legal sense during court proceedings. And while lying may be wrong, it's not legally wrong except in specific circumstances - perjury and libel/slander. Under our system, most instances of lying would be covered by the first amendment free speech clause.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's

Not only unconstitutional, it would require the ability to read minds. If coveting what your neighbor has was against the law in the US, there would be no "keeping up with the Joneses". You cannot, under our system, legislate against thoughts or feelings.

The "basis of most of our laws"? Not even close.

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