There was a time when "fear of God" meant piety, or at least conscience. Today, it more accurately describes the worldview of secular liberals who get itchy and twitchy at any reminder of our religious roots as a nation.
Thus, we are currently treated to the spectacle of the American Civil Liberties Union dragging the state of Texas into court for the offense of displaying the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol in Austin. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide in June whether a display of the Decalogue violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. This gives "God fearing" a whole new meaning.
"At the very seat of Texas government," thunders the ACLU brief, "between the Texas State Capitol and the Texas Supreme Court, is large monument quoting a famous passage of religious scripture taken, almost verbatim, from the King James Bible." Question: Is there any kind of scripture that is not religious?
The state of Texas argues that the monument isn't so important really. It stands at the back door of the capitol, not the front. It is smaller than several of the other 16 monuments dotting the campus of the capitol. And it contains many symbols found elsewhere in American public life -- such as the pyramid with the eye at the top and an eagle with outstretched wings clutching the stars and stripes -- both of which are also found on the dollar bill. Hard by the Ten Commandments monument are statues and plaques honoring or memorializing the Boy Scouts of America (under fire from the left, as well), Korean War Veterans, World War I veterans, Pearl Harbor, Texas children, the National Guard and pioneer women.
But no religious acknowledgment is too small to escape the attention of the zealous modern God-fearers. The petitioners complain that the monument "expresses an unequivocal religious message: There is a God, and God has proclaimed rules for behavior." We can't have that. Just you wait, the dollar bill -- which proclaims in broad daylight "In God We Trust" is not safe.
The God-fearers are not engaged in a fool's errand. They have good reason to suppose that their protest may be well-received. Over the past several decades, the court's establishment clause jurisprudence has been, well, peculiar. The court has held that a creche could be displayed at Christmastime only if it was accompanied by a requisite number of candy canes, Santas and other non-religious symbols. The court has also ruled that states may constitutionally provide maps (and, in a later decision, computers) for parochial schools, but not books.