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Ten Commandments In or Out?

Aired March 2, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE: The battle over the Ten Commandments goes to the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue, do displays of the commandments belong on public property? In Texas, a homeless man wants a huge granite monument off the grounds of the State Capitol. In Kentucky, the commandments hang next to other historic documents that helped build American law and government. Demonstrators warn the wrong ruling could force changes to memorials and public spaces all over America. Should the commandments stay or go?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.



The battle over where we can acknowledge the Ten Commandments' role in U.S. law and history is in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. Most people don't think there's anything wrong with displaying the Ten Commandments on public property, but nobody knows what the Supremes will do, as they claim to find invisible writing in the Constitution.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, how about these very visible words, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of the religion"? And do conservatives really believe that churches are doing such a poor job that government now has to start preaching religion?

That's debate today in the CROSSFIRE.

But, first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Today is March 2, Texas Independence Day, when we celebrate Sam Houston's band of never-say-die heroes in their defeat over the mighty army of Santa Anna; 169 years later, we're seeing signs of another rout by a small band of freedom fighters against a massive, wealthy fighting machine. I refer, of course, to the Democratic Party's attempt to stop President Bush and his army of robber barons from privatizing part of Social Security.

Mr. Bush wants to cut guaranteed Social Security benefits and borrow $2 trillion. But today, Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist said Mr. Bush's Social Security privatization plan might not even come up for a vote this year.

Now, back in Texas, Santa Anna was a classic bully. When the Texans stood up to him, he folded like a cheap suit and tried to escape dressed as a woman. I wonder if, in the fight for Social Security, Mr. Bush has begun picking out dresses yet.



NOVAK: Well, you are very clever, Paul.


NOVAK: You are very clever, Paul, in bringing in Texas history to Social Security.


NOVAK: But let me tell you something. I know you don't like facts very much. But the fact of the matter is that, sooner or later, down the line, there will have to be cuts in benefits and increases in taxes on Social Security to survive the system.


NOVAK: I guarantee you.

Robert Byrd of West Virginia is the senior member of the U.S. Senate. He is 87 years old and has been in the Senate for 46 years. Yesterday, he showed his age. In a floor speech, he compared Republican efforts to confirm judicial nominees to Hitler's parliamentary techniques that achieved total dictatorship in Germany. That's outrageous enough.

But the irony is that Senator Byrd, back in the days when Democrats controlled the Senate, on several occasions used the same technique that he now smears with the Hitler brush. When he finished, Senator Ted Kennedy, who is now 73 years old, with 42 years in the Senate said, said how much he liked Byrd's Hitler speech. Birds of a feather, indeed.

BEGALA: Well, I -- nobody should compare anybody else to Hitler. And that's a valid point that you make.

But the protection of the rights of minorities is what makes America different from totalitarian governments. And it's the protection of the rights of minorities that Mr. Bush and some of the Republicans are trying to trample in the Senate. And good for Senator Byrd for standing up for the rights of minorities in America.

NOVAK: Are you -- are you aware that, when he was the majority leader of the Senate, he used this technique to get a majority vote using parliamentary procedure with a ruling from the chair on four occasions?


NOVAK: Are you aware of that?

BEGALA: No, I'm not. I would be happy to look into that, though. Maybe we should...


NOVAK: You ought to look into more things.

BEGALA: We'll have a debate...


BEGALA: ... on that and more.

One of the things I have been looking at is the Web site of Media Matters For America. They are a watchdog group that has uncovered another right-wing hack posing as a journalist and this time in the mainstream media. Media Matters charges that Hiawatha Bray, a reporter for "The Boston Globe" who covers technology and covered part of the 2004 presidential race, also posted pro-Bush and anti-Kerry screeds on various Web sites.

Mr. Bray, according to Media Matters, allegedly wrote -- quote -- "Nearly all the men who served with John Kerry in Vietnam hated his guts" -- unquote -- which of course is false. He wrote that Kerry refused to release his medical records, also false. But Mr. Bray allegedly dismissed reports on these postings that George W. Bush failed to report for duty in the Alabama National Guard as -- quote -- "allegations backed by nothing but innuendo" -- unquote.

On November 4, Mr. Bray posted a statement that began -- quote -- "As a Bush supporter, I'm feeling pretty good right now." There's been no comment yet from either Mr. Bray or "The Globe." But if these things are true, I think Mr. Bray is not much of a journalist.

NOVAK: You know, it's really stunning to find a right-wing extremist in "The Boston Globe." I think that's like a museum piece, an exhibition of somebody that nobody ever saw. You know, I do -- I never am -- fail to be in awe of you, Paul, that you can rerun this presidential race...


NOVAK: ... that you lost over and over again. Is that masochism?

BEGALA: Well, I want to hear his side of this, because this is a serious charge of journalistic ethics. If he wants to come on CROSSFIRE, I think he should come on.

NOVAK: It's very, serious.

John Kerry entered the White House today. No, he didn't find 12,000 extra votes in Ohio to become president. He was piggybacked into the White House aboard the Boston Red Sox World Series winners. On the same day, in the Capitol Building, the late great baseball player Jackie Robinson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, honoring a lifetime of breaking down racial barriers.

Senator Kerry and President Bush shared the podium at both events. But, for me, the biggest baseball event of the day was in Florida, where the first Major League team to represent Washington, D.C., since 1971, the Washington Nationals, opened the exhibition season on national TV with a 5-3 win over the Mets. Go, Nats.

BEGALA: On that one, I agree.


BEGALA: I'm going to be there, season tickets, to watch the Nationals.

NOVAK: Me, too.

BEGALA: I also watched the president today, both at the Jackie Robinson event and the Red Sox event. You know I'm not a Bush fan. He was at his best. He was more than gracious to Senator Kerry. It was good that he showed up. It's just a terrific thing. It's one of the few things that binds us all together, those of us who are real Americans, at least, the love of baseball.

NOVAK: I was -- and I was so happy to see John Kerry in the White House. It just -- it just -- it kind of...


NOVAK: It's all he's going to get, but it's kind of nice, isn't it?

BEGALA: Well, no, but Mr. Bush was terrifically gracious to him and to the Robinson family.


BEGALA: I think this is the kind of thing that we could use a little more of in Washington.

But here at CROSSFIRE, we're returning to controversy. Should the Ten Commandments be displayed by the government? The U.S. Supreme Court heard the arguments for and against it today. We'll debate the question right here in the CROSSFIRE just ahead.

And just what does President Bush listen to on his iPod? And who even knew he had an iPod? We'll tell you what is on it after this.


ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



NOVAK: The battle over posting the Ten Commandments on public property is now in the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices heard arguments today over a monument, a big monument, on the grounds of the State Capitol in Texas and displays of commandments posted in county buildings in Kentucky.

Today in the CROSSFIRE over religion and government property, the Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United For Separation of Church and State, and Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center For Law and Justice.


BEGALA: Guys, to see you both.


BEGALA: Welcome back.

Jay, you are one of the foremost experts in this body of law. And so, I want to begin by looking at I guess what Al Gore would call the controlling legal authority.


BEGALA: It's not the first time the Supreme Court has looked at the Ten Commandments.


BEGALA: There was a case in Kentucky where they were posting them in schools.

And here's what the court ruled in 1980, Stone vs. Graham: "The preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact. The Commandments do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters, such as honoring one's parents, killing or murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, and covetousness. Rather, the first part of the Commandments concerns the religious duties of believers: worshipping the Lord God alone, avoiding idolatry, not using the Lord's name in vain, and observing the Sabbath Day."

The court has already ruled on this. Why...


SEKULOW: Well, look, the court granted review, though.

I mean, here you had a situation where you had two cases that were argued. And the court obviously wanted to relook at it. It's interesting. That is an accurate quote from Stone v. Graham, but one thing I think Barry would agree with, not a lot of discussion today about Stone vs. Graham. It was mentioned one time.

BEGALA: Interesting.

SEKULOW: What is interesting...

BEGALA: But conservatives don't seem to want to believe in continuing stare decisis, as they say in Latin...

SEKULOW: Well, no.


BEGALA: Continuing the precedents of the court, is that the problem?

SEKULOW: Well, no. I think what you had was, the court seriously is relooking at how do we evaluate church-state relations when it comes to government symbolism?

You know, last year, it was the Pledge of Allegiance. They didn't really hit that. Here, what you've got is, look, to deny that the Ten Commandments is a religious text is ridiculous. And Justice Scalia said that.


SEKULOW: It clearly is a religious text. But it does have a secular implication. And the fact is, if you look at why these are distributed, the court -- and there's about 3,000 or 4,000 of these monuments throughout the country, these Fraternal Order of Eagles monuments.

The court is faced, Paul, with a real dilemma here. And that is, if they order them to go, they literally bulldoze them away and remove them, or remove them physically from the site. And the court just did not seem, in that particular case, to want to go there.

NOVAK: You are shaking -- you are shaking your head. And I will let you...

SEKULOW: He always does.


NOVAK: I will let you explain -- I will let you explain what you are shaking your head about. But, Barry Lynn, it's hard for me to understand things. Of course, this is a court that somehow found in the Constitution this week that you can't execute people who are juveniles.


NOVAK: I looked all over the Supreme Court -- the Constitution. I couldn't find it. But we're not going to debate that.

I want to ask, do you really think you'll get a majority of this court to say that these monuments that have been around for 40 years are unconstitutional?

LYNN: Yes, absolutely.

I don't think there's any doubt that, for the same reason that you can't put up the Ten Commandments in a Kentucky schoolroom, you also can't put it up on a courthouse lawn or in a courthouse. Obviously, if we all agree that these are religious documents, and if we agree that the state of Texas and the state of Kentucky only put up the symbols, the words of a single religion, that is the Judeo- Christian faiths, isn't it obvious that they are promoting one religion over others?

And isn't that obviously inconsistent with the idea in the Constitution that we treat all religions, as well as nonreligious people, equally? Nobody is putting up any Buddhist documents or any statues to Madeline Murray O'Hare.

NOVAK: Let me -- let...

SEKULOW: But those aren't uniquely symbols of law. And that's the difference.

You know, the Ten Commandments is almost like if you -- when you see the tablets themselves, forgetting the verbiage that is on them for a moment, just if you see the tablets, we know what they are generally. It's rules of law. It's rules of conduct.


NOVAK: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.


LYNN: ... religious rule.


SEKULOW: Absolutely, but they have had a big impact on secular law. No one denies that.

LYNN: Of course they do. They have -- there's no connection, Bob and Jay, between the Ten Commandments and the writing of the United States Constitution. NOVAK: All right, let me -- let me -- let me just -- let me just quote to you Arthur Goldberg. You have heard of him.

LYNN: Of course I have.

NOVAK: He was a Supreme Court justice. In 1963, a long time ago, he said this: "Neither government, nor this court, the Supreme Court, can or should ignore the significance of the fact that many of our legal, political and personal values derive historically from religious teachings."

Do you deny that?

LYNN: What I'm denying is that the secular law of this country -- and it's not just me -- Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter, famous letter, to John Adams, where he said, you know, the Bible is not the basis for the civil law in our country.

Think about this. We don't have any civil laws against blasphemy. We don't have any laws in the judicial system that say you have to believe in only one God, which is the way most people would read the Ten Commandments, all versions of it. We don't make it unlawful to covet our neighbor's SUVs. If we did that, almost every one of us would be in a federal penitentiary now.


LYNN: We don't do that. Well, except us Prius owners. We wouldn't go.

But, Bob, there's no connection between at least four or five of these commandments and anything in the secular law. These states have chosen to take the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments, the King James version, not the Catholic version, which is dramatically different, not the Orthodox Jewish position on the commandments. And so they are making not just nonbelievers and Hindus and Buddhists feel like second-class citizens, but even Catholics and Jews.

NOVAK: Doesn't make me feel like a -- make me feel like a...


SEKULOW: Well, these monuments were put up by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.


BEGALA: To promote a movie.

SEKULOW: Actually...


BEGALA: Cecil B. DeMille made a film in 1956.

(CROSSTALK) SEKULOW: There's no doubt it. I mean...

BEGALA: This was a Hollywood promotional stunt.

SEKULOW: And it was...

BEGALA: It was. That's how they got there.

SEKULOW: It was a promotional stunt that took place.

Look, the evidence -- I have argued 12 of these cases. and just evidence is clear. Originally, these were going to be pieces of paper that a judge wanted to give out. And DeMille said, well, you know, I have got this movie going on. They used to send actually Yul Brynner...

BEGALA: And Charlton Heston, sure.

SEKULOW: And Charlton Heston -- would actually show up at some of the bigger events.

LYNN: Did Heston have a gun at the time?

SEKULOW: I always argued, that's the secular purpose. There was a secular purpose, movie promotion.


LYNN: It shows how degrading this whole thing is, because when you have these symbols that were first considered and put up because of a promotion of a movie...


BEGALA: Well, how about to promote "The Passion of the Christ," we put up crucifix?


BEGALA: I'm a Catholic. I believe that Christ died for my sins. Do I have a right to promote Mel Gibson's movie?

SEKULOW: Privately, you do.

BEGALA: Put a crucifix up in front of every courthouse?

SEKULOW: No, you don't.


BEGALA: Well, isn't that the same thing?

SEKULOW: No. The difference is that this universal symbol of law is seen in the Ten Commandments. There's no doubt about that. You can't deny that history. You don't see that with the crucifix. They didn't post the Sermon on the Mount here. (CROSSTALK)

LYNN: What universal symbol is, "I am the lord, your God?"


NOVAK: Wait a minute.


NOVAK: We have to take a -- wait a minute. We have to take a break.

LYNN: Why do you think it's up to the Supreme Court?


SEKULOW: ... get to do that.


NOVAK: Just ahead, I will tell you why the Supreme Court might not be the best place to consider the Ten Commandments issues.

And is al Qaeda plotting to attack New York's Grand Central Terminal? Wolf Blitzer has the latest right after this break.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming at the top of the hour. A discovery in Spain raising concerns about a possible terror attack against Grand Central Terminal. We'll talk live with New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Martha Stewart gets out of prison Friday. We'll preview her plans for a comeback.

And Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee lost more than 100 pounds. What's his secret? He has an amazing story to share with our viewers.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf. We look forward to your report at the top of the hour.

Here at CROSSFIRE, we're asking the question, does placing the Ten Commandments on the government property violate the Constitution's ban on the government establishing a religion? That question was before the Supreme Court this morning. It is in the CROSSFIRE this afternoon.

Still with us, Jay Sekulow of the American Center For Law and Justice and the Reverend Barry Lynn from Americans United For Separation of Church and State.

NOVAK: Barry Lynn, I have a very difficult question for you. In the Supreme Court chamber -- you may not know this -- there is an image of the Ten Commandments, with Hebrew writing visible on them. So, it's not the Protestant.


NOVAK: Now, tell me, is it possible for the justice to be objective in deciding this case with that thing standing there? Or should they tear down that image of the Ten Commandments?

LYNN: No, actually, they are not going to have to sandblast that image off the Supreme Court, nor are they going to have to use bulldozers to come and take away...

NOVAK: Why not?

LYNN: Because there's a genuine historical significance to that frieze, the stone carvings on the Supreme Court.

NOVAK: Oh, you are pandering to the Supremes.

LYNN: No, no, no. Fourteen other figures, including Napoleon, Hammurabi, a couple of Roman emperors, as well as Moses. You can't read -- and even if you can read Hebrew, you can't read much of the Ten Commandments out of it.

NOVAK: You are pandering to the court to get a good decision.


LYNN: No, I would never pander to the court.

But there is a serious difference. And that is, we're not sandblasting. We're not bulldozing anything away. We are going to take those, in the event that we win -- and I believe we will -- those Ten Commandment displays can be respectfully moved to a sacred ground, like the church lawn, the synagogue lawn, where they belong, and not in this court, where they don't belong.

BEGALA: And I can tell you where they are going to go.


BEGALA: They are going to go to Protestant churches.

I have a problem with this. The government has preferred a religion here, Jay.

SEKULOW: Well...

BEGALA: There are three versions of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20, Exodus 34, Deuteronomy 5.

SEKULOW: More than that, actually, but go ahead.

BEGALA: Well, there's five by some readings.


BEGALA: There's at least three major ones.


BEGALA: The Catholics', Jews' and Protestants'. They are different.


BEGALA: The government has preferred Protestantism here. Isn't that a violation of the Constitution?



SEKULOW: Because, first of all, this was the Eagles. The Fraternal Order of Eagles was who gave these monuments. They are not a religious organization. In fact, they tried to come up with what they called their...


BEGALA: But it's government property. The government...

SEKULOW: Well, the government accepted the gift, yes.

BEGALA: Right.

SEKULOW: And governments did around the country. No one denies that.

LYNN: And it is the Protestant version.

BEGALA: It is the Protestant version.


SEKULOW: On those, it is. I mean, there are others there are not. And, clearly, what you saw at the Supreme Court today engraved in the marble, the only text you can see is the Hebrew text. None of the other law...


BEGALA: But, like in the Texas case, it's actually Exodus 20, the Protestant version.

SEKULOW: It is. But, you know, the issue that is going to come -- that is before the court and what they're going to decide is, does the fact that let's -- and there was some discussion about this issue of the versions. But it was not a big discussion. We thought it was going to be huge, actually, Paul. It wasn't. And I think part of that was, the court is put in a vice, so to speak, of, they have got to write an opinion very carefully, because the last thing the court needs right now is starting to have these removals of Ten Commandment monuments, whether you do it respectfully or not, and assuming they would, because forget what is inside the chamber.

There are 13 other depictions of the Ten Commandments throughout the Supreme Court. You just walk across the street to the Library of Congress.


LYNN: And none of them are remotely like the one that we're talking about today.


SEKULOW: This isn't the religious right. This is the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

LYNN: No. As a matter of fact, the reason we're having this battle is because, sadly, of the so-called religious right.

That is to say that there are Christians...

SEKULOW: They didn't put these up.

LYNN: Excuse me.

There are Christians in this country who have decided this is another front in a culture war in America.


SEKULOW: It's you and the ACLU who have brought the lawsuits. These monuments have been there for 40 years, put up by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.


SEKULOW: I have been defending. You have been prosecuting.

LYNN: The last one in Kentucky was put up just a couple of years ago, wasn't it?


LYNN: It's another -- this is a continuing effort. And, by the way, you want to put them up in every schoolhouse in the country as well.


LYNN: That's the agenda.

NOVAK: That's the last -- that's the last word.

Thank you, Barry Lynn.

LYNN: Thank you.

NOVAK: Thank you, Jay Sekulow.


NOVAK: Just ahead, what does President Bush like to listen to when he turns on his iPod? What's an iPod?


SEKULOW: I'll buy you one.




BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Apple Computer has sold more than 10,000 of these little gadgets called...

NOVAK: Ten million.

BEGALA: Ten million -- I'm sorry -- 10 million of these gadgets. They are called iPod music players. This is Bob Novak's. It's got the Black Eyed Peas and Elephunk.


BEGALA: So, Bob is kind of a hipster.

Apparently, President Bush has one as well. And his is loaded with some classic music. I'm not a big Bush fan. But I sure like his play list. It includes some of country music's biggest stars, Alan Jackson, who I love, George Jones from Texas, Kenny Chesney.

Gordon Johndroe, who is Laura Bush's press secretary, tells the press that Mr. Bush listens to more than country. I don't know why one would. But, apparently, he does. He has got music from R&B singer Aaron Neville from New Orleans and classic rockers Creedence Clearwater Revival and Van Morrison.

NOVAK: You know, I don't have an iPod, Paul.

BEGALA: This is not yours? NOVAK: No, that's not mine. And I don't know how to work it. But if I had one, I'd like to put Italian opera into it. Now, is that possible? Or does that -- would it reject it?


BEGALA: You could put it on there. I would put my classic on there, Willie Nelson. That's the Texas version of classical music.

NOVAK: From Abbott, Texas.

BEGALA: From Abbott, Texas.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. Happy Texas Independence Day, all. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" comes up right now, I think.




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