Let them eat the Ten Commandments

A stone monument with the text of the Ten Commandments carved on it

Not edible.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

—James 2:14-17

Call me a godless atheist, but I’m in favor of feeding children.

If morality has to start somewhere, this is a good place to plant that flag. No child should ever go hungry; no parent should ever have to worry about where their family’s next meal is coming from. If we allow kids to go hungry when we have the power to feed them, that’s our collective moral failure as a society.

In the U.S., a lot of kids get free meals at school. That raises the question of what happens to them over summer vacation. The Biden administration addressed this with the Summer EBT program, which was expanded during the pandemic and then made permanent by act of Congress in 2022. Low-income families get $40 per child per month, only usable for groceries. States have to share administrative costs, but the federal government funds the benefits.

It seems like a win-win. Yet in 2024, 13 states turned down the money and refused to participate. Guess what they have in common:

All states that declined the opportunity are led by Republicans. Those states are: Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.

One of them was Louisiana, whose Republican governor said this:

Louisiana’s new DCFS secretary, appointed by Gov. Jeff Landry, said the benefit program would have distracted from his agency’s mission.

“Every child deserves a safe home, first and foremost, and families deserve a pathway to self-sufficiency,” David Matlock said in a statement. “Staying focused on that mission, without adding piecemeal programs that come with more strings than long-term solutions, is what will deliver the biggest impact for the children and families we serve.”

The cruelty and callousness of this takes your breath away. The Louisiana state government wants to take food away from children, to teach them some kind of twisted Ayn Rand lesson about how they shouldn’t rely on anyone but themselves.

But at the same time they were making sure hungry kids won’t eat enough over the summer, Louisiana was also doing this:

Signed into law earlier today by Gov. Jeff Landry, HB 71 requires schools to display the Ten Commandments in every classroom on “a poster or framed document that is at least 11 inches by 14 inches.” The commandments must be the “central focus” of the display and “printed in a large, easily readable font.” The bill also requires that a specific version of the Ten Commandments, which has been dictated by the state Legislature, be used for every display. Displays that depart from this state-sanctioned version of scripture would violate Louisiana law.

If I was writing a novel that had a religious-right demagogue as the villain, and I wanted to make them as cartoonishly evil and over-the-top as possible, I’d have a scene where they sanctimoniously put up a scripture display while taking away food from hungry kids. And I’d feel like a hack, because it would be so heavy-handed. Louisiana Republicans are doing it for real.

These conservatives are making it extremely clear – to those kids, and to the rest of us – that Christianity isn’t about loving your neighbor, helping the needy, or showing compassion. It’s about exerting raw power, forcing your will on others, and proving that you can do what you want because you’re the biggest bully around. (Which is very much the lesson of the Ten Commandments themselves: you should worship God because he’s the biggest and the strongest, and he gets extremely angry and jealous if he doesn’t feel like he’s getting enough flattery.)

Their choice to use a specific version of the Ten Commandments reinforces this. As I’ve written before, there’s not just one set of Ten Commandments. There are two conflicting decalogues in the Bible, depending on which verse you believe. Even when it comes to the set of verses that everyone knows about, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant believers divide it up in different ways to get different lists of rules.

Ordering schools to post one in preference to others is an assertion of pure sectarianism. It’s not just promoting religion over non-religion or Judeo-Christian religion over other belief systems, both of which violate the First Amendment, but promoting one specific sect of Christianity over its competitors. Under any other judiciary, this law would be struck down swiftly. With the current makeup of the Supreme Court, which endorses Louisiana’s view of naked Christian supremacism, I’m not so sure.

I’ll say that the Summer EBT story has a happy ending, of sorts. After the decision was announced, there was enough of an outcry that Louisiana lawmakers caved in and reapplied for the federal funding. Regardless, the fact that there even had to be a fight about this – that feeding hungry children isn’t a self-evident proposition, but a source of controversy and polarizing debate – proves how morally broken the conservative religious faction is. They think they’re sending a lesson about morality, and they are. But it’s the opposite of the one they intend.

Image credit: Kenneth Freeman, released under CC BY-SA 2.0 license


  1. Katydid says

    Notice the states that refused are also the states with the highest poverty rates.

    My state offers free meals to those who qualify…but the kids have to get to the school to eat, which can be a problem because the cachement area can be 10 miles and there are no forms of public transportation. But at least if the kids can get there, they can eat. The next step is to work on the quality of the school meals. For example, two decades ago, my kids’ school offered breakfast–for purchase or free depending on the family’s ability to pay. I sent my kids in with money because they wanted to buy breakfast…until I found out that the breakfast was things like powdered donuts, fake-fruit roll-ups, and generic-brand Poptarts. Lunch was just as bad.

    $40 per family for groceries is also a pittance, but it’s better than nothing.

  2. jenorafeuer says

    With regards to the specific version of the Ten Commandments, Slacktivist (very much a progressive evangelical) goes into a bit of a deep dive on this with “Louisiana will post the Twelve Commandments in schools“:

    This bill, like any such legislation, “requires a specific version of the Ten Commandments.”

    That’s a problem, because there are a lot of different versions of the Ten Commandments, all of which are phrased and enumerated differently. The version of “The Ten Commandments” mandated by Horton’s bill is not taken from any of those. It is, instead, the version concocted in 1950 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles and Cecil B. DeMille.

    Yes, really.

    This is not “The Ten Commandments” that can be found in any Bible. It’s “The Ten Commandments” that Hollywood used to promote DeMille’s 1956 blockbuster The Ten Commandments.

    Basically this is a version of the Ten Commandments concocted by a Minnesota juvenile court judge who liked sentencing you people to study the Ten Commandments, after he and his friends deliberately created an un-numbered and non-denominational list that didn’t quite match up with any existing version. The entire point of this list was always an attempt at an enforced civil religion.

    And because the law requires posting exactly that particular version of the list, even posting the actual KJV translation of the Biblical verses involved would violate the law. (The blogger notes that if you search for the actual KJV translation of the ‘graven images’ commandment you get lots of Bible studies and Sunday school lessons; search for the version used in this law and you get lots of legislation and court cases, and not much overlap.)

    So, yeah, it’s not about religion. It was never really about religion. It’s about authoritarianism and enforced conformity using deliberately vague religious language as shielding.

    Not that you needed me to tell you that.

  3. lpetrich says

    Why don’t such people ever talk about the Sermon on the Mount?

    Like “Love your enemies” and “Don’t have foresight because God will always provide” and “Remove parts of your body that make you commit sins” and “Don’t make a big show of your piety” and “Don’t call people insulting names”.

    It must be noted that JC violated some of the 10C’s, especially “Honor your father and mother”. When his parents found him studying at the Jerusalem Temple, after they thought that he was lost, he was much more snotty than compassionate: “Don’t you see that I must be at my Father’s house?”. When one of his followers wanted to bury his dead father, he responded “Let the dead bury their dead”. He also said that one should call no man “Father”, that one’s fellow followers are one’s real brothers, and that he has come to break up everybody’s families. He was rude when his mother asked him about a lack of wine at a certain wedding feast, though he eventually obliged by turning water into wine.

  4. lpetrich says

    As to 10C’s, why not these? “The Real Ten Commandments” by Richard Carrier: https://infidels.org/kiosk/article/the-real-ten-commandments/ by Athenian reformer Solon from 2,500 years ago:

    1. Trust good character more than promises.
    2. Do not speak falsely.
    3. Do good things.
    4. Do not be hasty in making friends, but do not abandon them once made.
    5. Learn to obey before you command.
    6. When giving advice, do not recommend what is most pleasing, but what is most useful.
    7. Make reason your supreme commander.
    8. Do not associate with people who do bad things.
    9. Honor the gods.
    10. Have regard for your parents.

  5. lpetrich says

    I’ve also found the Humanist Ten Commitments: https://americanhumanistcenterforeducation.org/ten-commitments/

    1. Altruism – “I will help others in need without hoping for rewards.”
    2. Critical Thinking – “I will practice good judgment by asking questions and thinking for myself.”
    3. Empathy – “I will consider other people’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences.”
    4. Environmentalism – “I will take care of the Earth and the life on it.”
    5. Ethical Development – “I will always focus on becoming a better person.”
    6. Global Awareness – “I will be a good neighbor to the people who share the Earth with me and help make the world a better place for everyone.”
    7. Humility – “I will be aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of others.”
    8. Peace and Social Justice – “I will help people solve problems and handle disagreements in ways that are fair for everyone.”
    9. Responsibility – “I will be a good person—even when no one is looking—and own the consequences of my actions.”
    10. Service and Participation – “I will help my community in ways that let me get to know the people I’m helping.”

  6. Prax says

    It would be funny if someone lobbied to display that section of James in schools instead of the Commandments. Or maybe the Matthew 25 bit about “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Stupid SJW Jesus.

    I’m sure the Louisiana governor’s decision on school meals had nothing to do with the fact that the families who benefit are disproportionately black or mixed.

  7. beholder says

    @2 jenorafeuer

    It is, instead, the version concocted in 1950 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles and Cecil B. DeMille.

    Shocking that Christians can’t be bothered to double-check that version with at least two conflicting accounts in the holy book they claim to be inerrant. The fact that they swiped it from promotional material for a hollywood production just makes it seem that much more like peak illiteracy.

    @1 Katydid

    Notice the states that refused are also the states with the highest poverty rates.

    I’m sorry, that’s a feel-good factoid that reaffirms my political prejudices, but I have to call bullshit. The statement and its converse are both false. Here in New Mexico we are chronically one of the most impoverished states, and we accepted the Summer EBT federal funding, along with ten other states with poverty above the national rate. Of the states that refused federal funds, five of them (Alaska, Wyoming, Iowa, Idaho, and South Dakota) have poverty below the national rate. Significantly below in the case of Alaska and Wyoming.

    • jenorafeuer says

      It’s not even that they can’t be bothered to double-check. This particular version of the ‘ten commandments’ was deliberately created to be a version that didn’t exactly match any of the ‘official’ versions so that in theory all the major variants of Judaism and Christianity could sign on without complaining that a competitor’s version was being used.

      It was created solely to be something that could be used for ‘legal’ purposes while supposedly sidestepping the whole prohibition against federal promotion of (a particular) religion by not actually being associated with any existing church.

      Basically it was a deliberate attempt to push religious thinking while trying to insist that they weren’t pushing any particular religion and thus weren’t violating the ‘freedom of religion’ portion of the First Amendment. Not surprising then that it was a judge that started this bit of legal chicanery because he would have known the rules well enough to try to figure out ways around them.

  8. says

    “Every child deserves a safe home, first and foremost, and families deserve a pathway to self-sufficiency,” David Matlock said in a statement…

    Um…yeah…and making sure kids are properly fed and nourished when they’re growing is just one of many things SENSIBLE grownups do to get them on that path. Anyone who can’t understand such a basic fact is just too stoopid to be anywhere near any sort of government at any level.

    Seriously, it’s LONG past time for this pig-ignorant false dichotomy, between “public assistance” and “self-sufficiency” to die in a fire and get kicked to the curb. Didn’t these morons take ANY basic civics/government/social-studies classes in middle or high school?

  9. mmckee44 says

    Frankly I think it should also be pointed out what those 10 commandments chose to ignore. So their god felt 3 commandments that narcissisticly demanded you worship him outweighed any admonition on slavery or rape.

    But that is just as well for a red state classroom where anything to do with uncovering the horrors of slavery, or the second class citizenship of women is made illegal.

  10. says

    Can comments on the 10 commandments from those in the reality based community spend at least a little time pointing out 3 major flaws?
    1) The first one clearly makes the point that other gods exist.
    2) The first 3 are clearly indicative of malignant narcissism.
    4) There is no admonition against rape or slavery. (There are clearly more deficits but those seem to be biggies.)

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