Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

ACLU would love
the ‘Ten Suggestions’

Say what you will about the Ten Commandments, you will always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only 10 of them. Author H.L. Mencken said that a long time ago but it still is a refreshing observation. Just think how different our lives would be if there were even a couple more commandments. Monday night football might be a goner. Strip-tease dancing might be a capital offense. Well, it already is in some other religions but Moses didn't haul anything down the mountain specifically against people getting naked on long skinny stages. The only good extra commandment I can envision would be one outlawing the manufacture, possession, sale or distribution of mayonnaise.

Even though there are only 10 commandments, they sure do cause a lot of trouble, most recently down South where the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court lost his job for displaying a granite monument listing the commandments in the courthouse. You can't have religion in government buildings because it bums people out. The whole "shalt" thing is so pushy. Thou shalt not to this, thou shalt not do that ... dude, get off my back.

And the term "commandment" seems a bit harsh in a world where everyone demands respect, even if they don't do anything to deserve it. Nobody -- parents, bosses or God -- can command anyone to do anything today. You gotta ask nicely or you'll be hearing from someone's lawyer. If Moses had just brought down tablets bearing the "Ten Suggestions," or the "Ten Fairly Reasonable Proposals to be Ratified Later Through Binding Arbitration" the ACLU would be out of a job.

WHEN YOU THINK about it, there's not that big a difference between the Ten Commandments and the Four Miranda Warnings. It's all semantics. If you throw a few "shalts" into the Miranda Warnings, they couldn't be posted in courthouses either. ("1. Thou shalt keep thou mouth shut if thou knows what's good for thou. 2. Thou shalt not say anything that can be used against thou in a court of law. 3. Thou shalt not be questioned without thou being in the divine presence of an attorney. 4. Thou shalt have an attorney even if thou cannot afford one, although it shalt not be a very good one.")

By the same token, if the Ten Commandments were de-shalted, no one could complain about them being in courthouses and government buildings. ("You have the right to steal, but if you do, the state has the right to put you in the slammer. You have the right to commit adultery, but, man, do you really need that kind of grief at home? You have the right to covet your neighbor's manservant and weed-whacker but it's going to make Saturday's neighborhood barbecue kind of tense.")

If you had to come up with a few brief guidelines that would help a lot of people live on a little planet together in peace, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with something better than the Ten Commandments. Or the Miranda Warnings, for that matter.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail


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