“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.”
Okay, even I can’t misinterpret or twist this one. It’s pretty much straightforward. I’m not even going to demand a strict interpretation of “JHVH” as the name of God being the only thing that can’t be taken in vain, because that’s just being silly. So in what ways does the Third Commandment affect the broader tapestry of our society? I see it as being in three ways. First, in those who embrace the ideology of the Judeo-Christian framework but then don’t live up to it in the laws they support; second, in those who make any sort of oath using a Torah, Bible, or other holy book derived from the Commandments and then violating that oath; and third in potential conflicts between the Third Commandment and the First Amendment.
For those who subscribe to this particular set of ideals, even without looking more broadly than the Commandments themselves I think there’s a fair bit of potential for conflict. Setting aside any jokes about politicians and adultery, there’s still plenty of arguments to be made. The weakest is regarding taxation, which some have argued is equivalent to theft. I’m not looking to make that argument here (although I may when I get to the Eighth Commandment), but I am putting it out there for consideration. More importantly there’s the question of all the people and politicians who make a big show of their faith and yet also make a big show of support for the death penalty. I’m not sure exactly how they square that with the Sixth Commandment, but that’s another one I’ll discuss further when I get to it. For now, I’m just asking questions.
As far as the taking of oaths, I know it was a requirement at some point to swear on the Bible when taking the stand or taking office, although I’m not sure if that was law or tradition with the force of law, nor am I sure if that is the case anymore. If a non-believer were to take an oath using the Bible, is that a violation of the Third Commandment? What about the many, many times that people have taken oaths, whether it be of office or simply when taking the stand in court proceedings, and then broken those oaths, but they were believers? I assume those are cases where the Commandment was broken. But what if they had no intention of breaking the oath at the time they took it?
Or what if they didn’t want to use the holy book because they felt it was in some way disrespectful? I mean no disrespect to anyone when I say invoking the Bible, the Torah, or the Quran would not influence my feelings about an oath, except perhaps to make me uncomfortable taking it in the first place since I see no reason to mix religion with public matters. But for believers, if there is a stigma, does it attach to the person who took an oath under duress or to the person who created the duress?
Finally, on the subject of non-believers, duress, and taking the lord’s name in vain, we have the issue of the First Amendment and how it intersects with the Third Amendment. Please note that I didn’t just say “free speech”, I very deliberately said “the First Amendment”. The issue here is one of freedom of religion as much as it is one of free speech and of the press. When we still censor the use of the phrase “god damn” on the chance that someone might be offended, and even more extreme forms of language and self-expression are suppressed with a ruthlessness that some third-world dictators might admire, there can be no question that there is an intersection between free speech and freedom of religion. But where do we draw the line? The presumption of “public airwaves” is that they are owned by the public as a whole, and not by any one segment of the public. So the question then becomes, do we appeal to the lowest common denominator of lasciviousness or the lowest common denominator of righteousness? Think carefully before you answer, because while your answer may be rooted in a desire not to hear someone use “Jesus Christ” as a curse, it may also mean not allowing someone to display an image of Mohammad either. “Freedom of religion” does not equate to “freedom of YOUR religion”.