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Ready for next step: Commandment enforcement

CHICAGO — CHICAGO - Since Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore installed his Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building two years ago, he has gotten grief from the American Civil Liberties Union, the federal courts and even his fellow justices.

On Wednesday, it was removed by judicial order.

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A lot of people think Justice Moore went too far in honoring our religious heritage. But the real problem is that he didn't go nearly far enough.

After all, these are not the Ten Suggestions we're talking about. They're the Ten Commandments. As one Moore supporter put it, "These are God's laws." America was colonized by people who came here precisely so they could live pious lives in complete conformity with biblical mandates, and we have strayed shamefully far from that purpose.

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If we're going to be true to that history and to the spirit of the Decalogue, it's not enough to post these injunctions in a public place and invite passersby to read them. The state can ill afford to stop at merely displaying the Ten Commandments. It needs to begin enforcing them with all the powers at its disposal.

I have no doubt that the people of Alabama would be happy to submit themselves to godly discipline. After all, Justice Moore was elected with 55 percent of the vote in 2000, long after he had gained fame for displaying the Ten Commandments in his county courtroom. He noted then, "This campaign is about morality," and apparently his constituents agreed. I take that as a public endorsement of the Commandments and a desire to see all Alabamans abide by them, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from cradle to grave.

Justice Moore says the roots of American law lie in God's laws, and history supports him. The Puritans left England because the old country was insufficiently observant of the true faith. Once here, they made it their business to see that everybody lived right.

Alabama could take useful instruction from that experience. All sorts of things forbidden in the Commandments were sternly punished by the Puritans. Sex outside the bonds of holy matrimony was a capital offense, and though offenders rarely were executed, they didn't get off easy.

David Konig, a historian at Washington University in St. Louis, says someone caught sampling forbidden delights might be forced to stand outside a church wearing a sign saying, "I am guilty of the heinous crime of fornication."

Unfortunately, a lot of things prohibited in Exodus 20 have been tolerated and even openly practiced in the Heart of Dixie. That will change once the state adopts the Ten Commandments as actual prohibitions. If Alabama were to take the Puritan approach, there might be more people standing outside the churches on Sunday morning than sitting inside.

The Almighty isn't concerned only about carnal pleasures, though. The First Commandment says, "You shall have no other gods before me." That could be a problem, particularly in Tuscaloosa. The story is told of the Alabaman who, upon arriving in heaven, saw a man wearing a houndstooth hat, mumbling in a thick drawl, and carrying a football under one arm. "Who's that?" he asked. "Oh, that's God," replied St. Peter, "but He thinks He's Bear Bryant."

Lots of people in Alabama have likewise confused the two. A systematic campaign of prosecution may be needed to rid the state of all basement shrines to Crimson Tide football, which apparently are considered as essential as indoor plumbing.

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As a general matter, I suspect, Alabamans are no less prone to sin than the rest of us. But I'm told that in most of the state, it's considered inexcusable to take the Lord's name in vain. So police shouldn't have to spend too much time enforcing the Third Commandment.

The ban on Sabbath-breaking, though, could keep them very busy. I doubt the ancient Hebrews would have considered playing 18 holes of golf to fit with the Almighty's expectations. One Alabama friend tells me that in her home state, "taking a nap during the NASCAR race is considered to be resting on the Sabbath."

Mr. Konig says that in Puritan New England, merely traveling on the Lord's day was asking for a stiff fine. Alabama currently has serious fiscal problems, but if everyone who did something unholy on the Sabbath had to pay for his transgression, the state would be swimming in revenue. That's even before we start counting the money that could be generated by punishing blasphemy, covetousness, unfounded gossip and sassing of parents.

Roy Moore thinks the people of Alabama are hungry for a return to morality. Once the state starts enforcing the Ten Commandments, trust me, they won't be hungering anymore.

Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune publishing newspaper. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.


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