Copyright © 1999 Henrietta W. Hay
Congress: The God Squad
July 2, 1999
The dreadful tragedy of Columbine has become - in two short months - a
game of political one upsmanship and a platform for religious
demagoguery. As a political groupie, I usually can find something
redeeming or at least funny in the antics of Congress, but this time
there is no humor. In one day they decided to prevent future school
shootings by legalizing the posting of the Ten Commandments (they didn't
specify which ten) in every classroom in America and on the same day
they defeated a bill which would have made it harder for high school
students to acquire automatic rifles.
In Washington the cause of the Columbine massacre varies with the
direction of the political wind. It was caused by (1) Hollywood, (2)
bad parenting, (3) television, (4) video games, (5) lack of school
discipline, (6) easy access to guns, (7) not enough guns, (8) kicking
God out of school buildings, (9) Internet access in public libraries,
(10) you name it and we'll pass a law to fix it so the people will think
we know what we are doing.
So far, Congress is worrying about getting God into school, keeping the
NRA happy, and getting re-elected -- not necessarily in that order.
The real societal problems which Columbine made us face are much too
complex for Congress to deal with, so it is trying to get off the hook
with easy answers. The state of Louisiana got into the act with a new
law requiring school students to be courteous. This is certainly a
desirable goal, but a questionable method which my friend the
philosopher calls civility by decree. She added, "Wonder what the
Christians will say when we have prayer in schools, the 10 commandments
posted, and children politely continue to kill."
Of course it is unconstitutional and Congress know it well, but that
didn't stop them. The Ten Commandments bill surely must win the prize
for stupid legislation of the year. The next time there is a school
shooting they will probably legalize printing the Lord's Prayer and the
23rd psalm on every blackboard. The goal, of course, is to use the
tragedy as a front to try once more to push through a constitutional
amendment to allow formal prayer in schools.
Each person's religious belief is a very personal thing. Some of us
follow what we learned as children; some of us don't. Some of us go to
church; some of us don't. Some of us believe in an anthropomorphic
God; some of us don't. Some of us are Christian; some of us are
Jewish; some of us are Buddhist; some of us are none of the above. In
this country we are all entitled to our personal spiritual beliefs.
But they are personal and, if we so choose, private.
Our forefathers knew this. Most of them were in this new country
because of religious persecution in Europe. Historically, when nations
try to combine politics and religion, it has led to bloodshed. The
Crusades, the witches of Salem, modern Ireland and Kosovo come to mind.
But here we are, after Columbine, with the symbolic man of our times,
Charlton Heston. It was over thirty years ago that I saw a young actor
named Heston play the part of Moses in "The Ten Commandments." Today
he is the mighty spokesman for the gun lobby. We have Moses standing
strong and tall and handsome on Mt. Sinai, his robes rippling in the
breeze, lightning flashing behind him. In one hand he holds the tablets
on which are inscribed the Ten Commandments; in the other hand, he
waves a 20th century uzi. The two images have blended; simplistic
answers for complex questions.
As Maureen Dowd wrote, "This is the season of cheap virtue. Politicians
are rushing to take God's name in vain. (Thereby violating commandment
What we need from Congress is thoughtful consideration of the real
issues of our time. But don't hold your breath. The lessons of
Columbine are political gain by the God Squad.