Tom West: City should adopt its own moral code

A week ago, Jay Juergensen, in Duluth from Detroit to kick off Duluth's Preservation Development Initiative, spoke on, what else, preservation. He was talking about buildings, not ourselves. However, among his remarks was a thought that applies t...

A week ago, Jay Juergensen, in Duluth from Detroit to kick off Duluth's Preservation Development Initiative, spoke on, what else, preservation. He was talking about buildings, not ourselves. However, among his remarks was a thought that applies to much of our civic life. He said something along the lines of, "If you have to drag them out of the path of the bulldozers, then both sides have lost."

"Them" are the protesters.

Now comes word that the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union (MCLU) wants the city of Duluth to remove the stone tablet on which are engraved the 10 Commandments. Just what we need -- another brouhaha to get everybody's blood boiling. It helps keep us warm in the winters.

What I have to say on the subject is probably blasphemy, but so be it. Ever onward, ever downward.

First, in all the times I've stopped by City Hall, I have yet to see anybody outside staring at the 10 Commandments. Jay Cooke and Leif Erickson get more stares than that slab of scripture.


Nor do I ever see school children gathered on the lawn, quietly listening as their teacher explains the meaning of each commandment.

And finally, my reading of the city charter gives no evidence that you have to obey any law carved in granite on the city's property. If it is a handsomely painted sign -- like "No Parking" -- then you have to obey, but the chiseled-in-stone stuff you can take or leave.

Unfortunately, the MCLU has on its side a few judges who think they are legislators. Most elected politicians, state or federal, who want to be re-elected, have the good sense to be nowhere in sight when people are being dragged out of the path of bulldozers. Judges, who either have lifetime appointments or an election system so rigged in favor of the incumbents that they might as well be appointed, have no such compunctions. Thus, some have chosen to interpret this phrase of the First Amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," to mean that there shall be absolute separation of church and state.

Is it just me, or do you get the feeling that if the judiciary were called on to serve as interpreters at the United Nations that they would quickly turn the organization into a Tower of Babel?

I just don't get it. The law seems fairly clear that you can't "prescribe" a state-sanctioned religion, but some judges have interpreted that to mean you must "proscribe" (which means "ban") the government from making even a fragment of religious text or teaching available to the public. If only it were just a spelling error.

Second, I wonder if perhaps it is the word "Commandments" that sets people off. We live in a blameless culture today where people generally behave as they personally please. Nobody commands anybody to do anything. I wonder if we could defuse the whole bloody debate by chiseling out "Commandments," and chiseling in "Recommendations."

And finally, if that's not good enough, I would suggest that the city of Duluth adopt its own moral code. The code, which could be posted on a handsomely painted sign on the side of City Hall would read something like this:

The city of Duluth believes that if you follow the tenets expressed below that you will increase your chances of living a happy, long, satisfying life:


1. Don't worship money, power or fame. You can't take them with you.

2. Don't be so hung up on material things like having a perfect holiday gift-opening, winning a hockey game or shooting a 10-point buck that you forget to give your family what it needs most from you: your time, attention and love.

3. Don't use profanity; it makes you appear short-tempered and of limited vocabulary and intellect.

4. Take a day off every week; work is never ending, and your life isn't.

5. Respect your parents; even when you're 15, they still know more than you do.

6. Don't kill people.

7. Don't be sexually promiscuous. Promiscuity increases the spread of diseases, some of which are life-threatening, and increases the likelihood that children will be raised in homes with only one parent when two is preferable.

8. Don't steal.


9. Don't gossip and spread false, hurtful rumors about other people.

10. Don't make yourself unhappy by wishing you had a better car, big-screen TV, house or anything else because your friends or neighbors do. Instead, be grateful for what you already have.

This code may not be as enduring as the original, but, as they say, it's good enough for government work.

I thought about adding three more tenets, but that would make 13, an unlucky number. For those who aren't counting, however, the three would be: Don't use mind-altering drugs; they can kill you. Don't smoke tobacco; the odds are about 75 percent that it will shorten your life. Pay your taxes but participate in our democracy; if you don't like the amount you pay or what it goes toward, try to change the laws.

I'm not so naive as to think that all of life's complexities would be covered by such a code, and, just to be clear, I'd like to acknowledge that this sinner isn't preaching from the high ground. Still, I think each tenet contains a certain truth. The MCLU can call these "suggestions" religion, but to me they look like plain common sense.

Tom West is the editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at .

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