The Volokh Conspiracy, Extra 



Thursday, April 24, 2003


THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: I think the answer is 3, though there are plausible (though ultimately in my view unpersuasive) arguments that it should be 4.
  1. "I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me." This is fortunately not legally enforceable; in fact, the First Amendment would prohibit the government from enforcing this.

  2. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them . . . ." Again, this is fortunately not legally enforceable, neither as to the prohibition on graven images, nor on the visiting of the fathers' sins upon the sons.

  3. "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." Some states have enacted blasphemy laws in the past, though to my knowledge they've generally been limited to public blasphemy. Fortunately they are not enforced today.

  4. "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates . . . ." This is generally not the law today; some states still require some businesses to be closed Sundays, but there's no general prohibition on work on the Sabbath -- no-one is going to arrest you for working from home on Sundays, and that too is very good.

  5. "Honour thy father and thy mother . . . ." Not legally enforceable.

  6. "Thou shalt not kill." Legally enforceable, though of course with the usual qualifiers.

  7. "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Not in practice legally enforced today, though I believe that some states do still have criminal prohibitions on adultery on the books. There are plausible arguments for enforcing these prohibitions, and also for considering adultery in various civil contexts (in property settlements in divorce and the like), though I think that on balance the current approach is better for a wide range of practical reasons.

  8. "Thou shalt not steal." Legally enforceable.

  9. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." Legally enforceable, at least in a wide range of contexts (such as perjury and libel).

  10. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's." Not legally enforceable -- can you imagine a law prohibiting coveting?
So there it is: Many of these rules may be morally good, and all may be theologically important to some people. But only 3 (no killing, stealing, and false witness) are currently enforceable under American law, though there are plausible arguments that adultery should also be included.


MILITARY SPENDING VS. EDUCATION SPENDING: Each year, we spend roughly twice as much on education as on the military. In 2000-01, total spending on education (both private and public) was $700 billion, of which 80% was on public education; at 3% inflation per year, the fiscal year 2003 spending should be over $750 billion. The Defense Department spending for 2003 was a titch over $350 billion. (State National Guard spending is negligible compared to this.)

     Naturally, total federal spending on education is considerably less, only $60 billion in 2003; but that's simply because the lion's share of the spending is by states and local school boards, followed by spending by individual parents and students. One way or another, through private spending, state and local taxes, and federal taxes, twice as much of our nation's wealth is spent on education as on the military.

     (By the way, I don't mean to be a grouch, but if you're inclined to e-mail me to suggest that these numbers are off because they fail to take into account spending category X or zone of overlap Y, please (1) figure out just how much money X and Y actually involve, and (2) make sure that they make a material difference. No need to point out that some $100 million military expenditure is actually folded into the budget of the Department of Framastats; the analysis is the same whether the total is "a titch over $350 billion" or "a titch over $350.1 billion." These numbers are all estimates in any event, since utterly precise information can't be had here -- but I think they're pretty sound estimates at the level of accuracy that's needed for this question. My apologies for bringing this up, but I thought I'd try to nip some of the objections in the bud.)

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