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Words Fail

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

That image of the smashed Ten Commandments on the Arkansas Capitol's grounds raised all kinds of questions, such as: Who really handed down the Big Ten -- the Lord God or Cecil B. DeMille, the great movie maker who created his own world?

Talk about mixed messages as well as mixed media, this monstrosity had an American eagle atop a flag, an all-seeing Eye of God, some Stars of David scattered here and there.... This monument had something to please everybody -- except those who still hold fast to the biblical injunction: Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images.

For that matter, this state's constitution commands: "No human authority can, in any case or manner whatsoever, control or interfere with the right of conscience; and no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment, denomination or mode of worship, above any other."

By seeking to please all, this sacrilege succeeded in displeasing many -- including the fanatic whom the police report chose to drive into the monument barely a day after it had gone up, leaving it in pieces. Just as the original was hurled to the ground and shattered by that original iconoclast Moses. So far there are no reports of women collecting the remaining pieces of the statue in order to reconstruct them in the shape of a golden calf.

The only sure result of all these goings-on over this Garden of the Gods rising on the Capitol grounds may be a flurry of lawsuits. Meanwhile, worshippers of other deities await their turn to erect their own statue. To quote Lucien Greaves, who co-founded the Satanic Temple in the once Puritan commonwealth of Massachusetts: "We're not actually suing to have the Ten Commandments taken down. It's to have our monument put up."

This time Rita Sklar, who directs the Arkansas branch of the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, may have a relevant point when she observes: "There is no law in federal, state or local government -- that's standing any more, anyway -- that admonishes Americans to have no other God before one God."

Besides, she asks, which version of the Ten Commandments would be quoted on a monument to their historical significance? Which is the dubious rationale for erecting such a monument. As she points out: "There's the Catholic version. There's the Protestant version. There's the Hebrew version. The selection of these particular commandments has a special place in the Christian religion in particular, and this wording is from the Protestant sect of the Christian religion."

As usual, State Sen. Jason Rapert is more than ready to hand down a landmark legal decision -- though at the moment he happens to be a member of this state's legislative branch rather than the Supreme Court of the United States, which has not yet availed itself of his generously offered services. After all, the habitually argumentative Sen. Rapert argues this time, the U.S. Supreme Court's building includes a depiction of the Ten Commandments, ergo: "If it's good enough for the United States Supreme Court, it is good enough for the state Capitol of Arkansas." That the Supreme Court itself has handed down conflicting opinions about this matter doesn't seem to deter Sen. Rapert from leaping to still another strange conclusion about what the law of the land means.

The ACLU's Sklar has a pertinent point to make in this unnecessarily confused and confusing debate: "Religious monuments have been upheld by the court in much older buildings where the monument has existed for a long time and is part of the historic structure. Nobody is going to take down the U.S. Supreme Court or the U.S. Capitol, but (the justices) have not looked so well on newer monuments that are clearly erected for religious purposes."

According to the police report, the suspect in this case, Michael Tate Reed of Van Buren, Ark., started his vehicle from a stopped position and drove into the Ten Commandments monument. Which sounds like a deliberate act of vandalism, though a due respect for the law requires that the final disposition of his case should respectfully be left to the courts.

Here's a suggestion about how to handle this case until these parties with strong opinions about it calm down: Round them up, lock them in a padded cell, and tell them not to come out till they can agree on what to do in the matter of The Ten Commandments vs. We the People. But, please, leave the rest of us out of their quarrel. The news is dismaying enough as is. The only conclusion wordsmiths at Arkansas' Newspaper can offer today is: Words fail.

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