Today@Sam - SHSU Campus News Online Sam Houston State University Seal
In the News
SHSU Homepage

SHSU Experts
SHSU Stats
Sam the Man
SHSU History
Austin Hall

Heritage Magazine
Huntsville Item
The Houstonian
Gov. Links
Useful Links
Theater & Dance
SHSU Athletics
Rec. Sports
Request Info
General Info
Then & Now
The President
Public Relations
Post Office
Search SHSU

Distinguished Lecturer Takes On Commandments

Paul Finkelman
Paul Finkelman discusses the Ten Commandments as part of the Distinguished Lecturer Series on Tuesday.

The idea that concepts within the Ten Commandments are found in the American legal system because of the Bible “is simply utter historical nonsense.”

That’s the assertion Paul Finkelman, Chapman Distinguished Professor at the University of Tulsa College of Law, made during his Distinguished Lecture Series speech Tuesday at Sam Houston State University.

“The law we live with comes from Rome, it comes from Germanic tribes, it comes from Greece, it comes from Spain, some of it comes from the Bible, but not a whole lot of it,” said Finkelman, who served as an expert witness in the famous Alabama Ten Commandments Monument case. “So to make the argument that the Ten Commandments is the moral foundation our country is simply a fraud.”

In his lecture, Finkelman dissected the commandments, looking at them from the perspective of different religions and denominations and asked the audience to look at each commandment individually to see how they apply to the American legal system.

Finkelman challenged the audience to show him which of the commandments could possibly form the basis of laws, from the commandment requiring believers to “Remember the Sabbath day,” to which Finkleman questioned which Sabbath would be remembered, Saturday or Sunday; to “Honor your father and your mother,” to which Finkleman asked what one would do if your father or mother wasn’t worthy of honor.

“As you heard when I was introduced, I’m moving; I’m leaving Oklahoma and moving to Albany, N.Y. I’m right now in the process of trying to convince hundreds of people to covet my house. I pray every day that my neighbor will covet my house,” he said, referring to the ninth and 10th commandments by some denominations or just the tenth by Jewish and Protestant standards.

“We live in a culture of covetousness. I covet my neighbor’s BMW every time he drives by,” Finkelman said. “I would argue that coveting is the central engine of the American economy.”

If America did base its laws on the Ten Commandments, how would one be punished for coveting; adultery, which by Biblical standards in the Book of Exodus only occurs when “a married woman has sexual intercourse with someone who is not her husband;” or even gossip (bearing false witness), Finkelman asked.

And of the commandments that do play a role in the American legal system, stealing and murder, both are concepts prohibited by “every known culture in the world at any time,” he said.

“That’s an interesting concept (‘thou shalt not kill’) because, of course, Huntsville is the killing capital of America,” he said. “The governor of Texas is one of the biggest killers in America, year in and year out.

“Is ‘do not kill’ part of our culture?” Finkleman said. “On the contrary, we give medals to people who kill; we promote people in the police department occasionally because they kill.”

Finkelman also discussed how different translations lead to different interpretations.

“Any of you who are serious about foreign languages understand that translation is an art,” he said “The major faiths in this country take very seriously the ideas about how you understand what the Bible says.

“The Bible is in fact translated, not necessarily the way that a linguist would translate it but rather it’s translated the way the people who are in charge of the theology in your particular faith would translate it,” he said. “A Catholic priest, a Baptist minister and a Jewish rabbi will all look at the same Hebrew text and see something different because their religious faith leads them to see something different.”

These differing views have led to different versions of the Ten Commandments, such as in Catholic version, which combines what is otherwise known as the first and second commandments and splits what is the 10th commandment in other denominations into two, as its ninth and 10th commandments.

“The Ten Commandments, first of all are found in two places in the Bible. This comes as a surprise to most people,” he said. “They are found in Chapter 20 of Exodus and Chapter 5 in Deuteronomy. They are, by the way, different in both of these places.

“So not only does not everybody have the same Ten Commandments, but the Bible doesn’t have the same Ten Commandments,” he said.

All of these factors play into cases that have arisen across the nation that involve placing religious monuments on public property, such as the Alabama case.

Texas also had a case involving a Ten Commandments monument on the State Capitol grounds, but the monument, which bears the Lutheran version of the commandments, was allowed to stay, Finkelman said.

“So all you Texans who are not Lutheran, all you Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterians or Episcopalians or Church of Christ or Catholics or Jewish, they don’t have your Ten Commandments up there,” he said. “It matters if you are a truly religious person.

“There are a number of people in this room, myself included, who think that religion actually matters, who think that religious text actually matters, who actually believe that when you read scripture, we are reading words that we should take very, very seriously, that we should think about, that we should pray on as some of us would put it, that we should understand that scripture very carefully,” Finkelman said. “Surely it must matter if we take our religious faith seriously, but what we certainly don’t want is the government telling us what that religious faith is or what that religious text is.”

Finkelman argued that there is a very good reason why the founding fathers wanted to keep church and state separate, not only because of the thought that religion might corrupt politics but because “if you get religion and politics involved, in the long run religion is going to suffer,” he said.

“Those of you who think you’d like to get prayer in public school, do you really want the State Legislature of Texas writing prayers for you? Do you really want Gov. (Rick) Perry writing your prayers? Would you have wanted George Bush writing prayers?” he said. “I don’t think so, because those people aren’t particularly holy people.

“That’s something the Framers of the Constitution understood very well; that if the government gets into the religion business, religion, in the end, is going to suffer because the prayers that the government writes are not going to be prayers from the soul or the heart, they are going to be prayers of the legislature,” he said.


SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
April 11, 2006
Please send comments, corrections, news tips to

This page maintained by SHSU's Office of Public Relations
Director: Frank Krystyniak
Assistant Director: Julia May
Writer: Jennifer Gauntt
Located in the 115 Administration Building
Telephone: 936.294.1836; Fax: 936.294.1834