While debating Ten Commandments displays in courthouses, schools, and other public places, I have heard many Christians claim that this country was founded on the principles in the Ten Commandments.
For the sake of argument, let's go through the Ten Commandments (you know them all, right?). These are paraphrased for simplicity (and because I'd rather not worry about picking a specific translation).
1. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. - The First Amendment of our Constitution says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That absolutely contradicts the First Commandment, which says it's forbidden to worship any other God.
2. Thou shalt not make any graven images. - Again, contradicted by the First Amendment. If you want to worship idols, the state has no right to stop you.
3. Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain. - This one violates the other part of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech."
4. Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. - Oops. The First Amendment says you can't force me to observe your religious holidays.
5. Honor your father and mother. - It's not illegal to disrespect your parents. In fact, if they treat you poorly enough then the state will take you away from them. Contrast this with the Jewish law, which was that "...he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death" (Exodus 21:17). Jesus even commented on this:
3 Jesus answered, "And why do you disobey God's command and follow your own teaching? 4 For God said, "Respect your father and your mother,' and "Whoever curses his father or his mother is to be put to death.' 5 But you teach that if a person has something he could use to help his father or mother, but says, "This belongs to God,' 6 he does not need to honor his father. In this way you disregard God's command, in order to follow your own teaching. 7 You hypocrites! How right Isaiah was when he prophesied about you! 8 "These people, says God, honor me with their words, but their heart is really far away from me. 9 It is no use for them to worship me, because they teach man-made rules as though they were my laws!" (Matthew 15:3-9)
It's a good thing we don't have that in our laws, or I bet most of us would be dead.
6. Thou shalt not murder. - Finally, a law we actually have! But wait. This has been a law in every society in recorded history. You don't have to be a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim to know that murder leads to distrust, and distrust leads to unstable societies. This law predates the Ten Commandments.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. - This may be a law in some states, but not in most. It depends also on how you define adultery. Pre-marital sex, for instance, is not illegal (or if it is, then it's never enforced).
8. Thou shalt not steal. - Ah, now we have two. Oh wait, this is another one that's common to every society. Darn.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness. - Lying is only illegal in certain circumstances, and I'd say again that this rule is not unique to the Ten Commandments. It's a common sense law necessary for any system of justice.
10. Thou shalt not covet. - Not illegal.
So let's summarize: Out of ten commandments, two or three of them are actually laws (four if you count the rare places where adultery may possibly be illegal, but probably isn't enforced). Of those, none are unique to the Ten Commandments. On the other hand, the first four, and the most important ones to the Jewish and Christian religions, actually contradict the First Amendment.
Those who claim that the Ten Commandments are fundamental to our system of government have either never read the Ten Commandments, or know nothing of our government or laws. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that these people are just being ignorant or not thinking things through rather than outright misleading people. Still, the fact remains that they are wrong.
Now, it's one thing to claim that this nation was founded on Christianity. I disagree, but at least you can make a decent argument in support of this claim. On the other hand, the Ten Commandments argument is completely without merit. When I see this argument, I always ask these questions: Which of the Ten Commandments are the basis for our laws? Can you name a single commandment which is both found in our laws and is unique to the Ten Commandments (i.e., one that was not a law in every single other society in history)? As I showed above, there aren't any.
So please, stop making this claim, and stop trying to put your religious texts on taxpayer-owned property.