Many argue the Ten Commandments have nothing to do with U.S. law, that the depictions of Moses and/or the Ten Commandments carved into the architectural structure of the U.S. Supreme Court building only represent one concept of several “early written laws.”
The marble frieze, “Justice the Guardian of Liberty,” located on the Court Building’s eastern pediment, depicts Moses as one of three Eastern law givers (Confucius to Moses’s left, Solon to his right). Some historians argue that by including Moses holding two blank tablets (the Ten Commandments) as part of the frieze, Moses represents only one of three Eastern civilizations whose laws primarily influenced American law.
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Likewise, others argue that on the South and North wall friezes inside the Court’s Chamber where the Justices rule do not emphasize Moses over any other lawgiver. Moses is only one of 18 lawgivers whose images are carved: Menes, Hammurabi, Moses (holding an inscribed tablet), Solomon, Lycurgus, Solon, Draco, Confucius, Augustus, Justinian, Mohammed, Charlemagne, King John, St. Louis, Hugo Grotius, William Blackstone, John Marshall, and Napoleon.
Yet, above the bench where the justices rule, carved on a marble relief are two men sitting on either side of a tablet on which I through X are carved. The allegorical figures represent “The Power of Government” and “The Majesty of the Law.” The numeric tablet represents the Ten Commandments, not any other law.
Entering the Court’s Chamber from the central hallway of the Supreme Court building, are two oak doors on which are carved two tablets with roman numerals I through X. These numeric tablets represent the Ten Commandments, not any other law.
The images of tablets with inscriptions all depict the same roman numerals I through X, not any other number or letter in any other typeface. The numbers specifically represent the first ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which are widely acknowledged and understood as interchangeable with the numbers one through ten (1-10).
Many oppose recognizing the Ten Commandments’s influence on American law. Many also demand that any public displays be removed from public property. Yet the majority of Americans oppose their removal. In fact, according to Pew Research polls, “Americans overwhelmingly support displaying the Ten Commandments on public property, with more than seven-in-ten saying they believe such displays are proper.”
Stephen McDowell, of the Providence Foundation, clarifies why:
“A nation’s monuments and national symbols reflect the heart of the people and identify what they believe is the source of their nation’s greatness and achievements. America’s monuments and symbols contain the declaration that the source of our birth, liberty, and greatness is God.”
McDowell surveyed and found numerous biblical inscriptions on government buildings from the Library of Congress, to the U.S. Capitol, the National Archives, the Washington Monument, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, and others.
Interestingly, despite public opposition, the National Park Service repositioned the Washington Monument’s metal cap on public display in order to block visitors from being able to read its inscription: Laus Deo (Praise be to God). It has not however covered or removed the blocks embedded in the inside walls of the structure on which numerous references to God are inscribed, including “Holiness to the Lord,” “Search the Scriptures,” “In God We Trust,” “The memory of the just are blessed,” and others.
George Washington undoubtedly would be appalled by the National Park Service’s actions. He himself actually insisted that America as a nation must do more than just publicly acknowledge God. He wrote a proclamation (published in The Providence Gazette and Country Journal on October 17, 1789) in which he emphasized:
“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection and favor.”
John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and many other presidents concurred with Washington’s directive. They understood that public displays and public acknowledgements of God were not coercive measures. They were instructional expressions of free speech and free worship. National monuments served as reminders, encouragements, and examples of American leaders who publicly emphasized the importance of valuing, relying upon, and honoring God.
No Founding Father argued that America as a nation should forget God. In fact, they argued the opposite.
Further still, they and their predecessors evidenced through their own actions that they opposed any legal prohibition of inscribing biblical verses or expressions on the very structures and monuments they themselves had commissioned to be built.