In an op-ed I recently wrote regarding the Kobe Bryant affair, I issued a clarion call to black leadership to begin holding black athletes and entertainers accountable for the destructive role models they set for the youth in our community. One of the points the op-ed makes is that the ongoing deterioration of values in mainstream popular American culture gives reason for an even greater sense of urgency among blacks to care for our own.

The current dispute regarding display of a Ten Commandments monument in an Alabama courthouse supports my case. It says something about the moral state of our country when we no longer can discern the difference between assuring that all citizens are free to worship or not worship and acknowledging informal public consensus of what constitutes decent behavior.

The tense press coverage that this issue garnered almost exclusively constituted camera shots of the huge granite monument, alternating sound bytes of Judge Roy Moore stating his faith and American Civil Liberties Union spokespeople explaining why under our Constitution government cannot prefer any particular religion. Did any reporter take time to look at the Ten Commandments to examine the merits of the claim against their display?

The first four commandments, recognizing God, prohibiting graven images, prohibiting blasphemous language and proclaiming the Sabbath, may certainly be called religious. Unmistakably, under the First Amendment of the Constitution, every American is unequivocally free to observe or not observe these precepts as they so choose. But should every American exercise the right or freedom to choose or ignore the others?

The remaining six commandments are: honor your father and mother, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness and don’t covet. If these ancient precepts cannot be viewed today as appropriate standards of decency in America, do we have any standards and, if so, what might they be?

It seems that an important question is: Does prohibiting acknowledgment of the Ten Commandments as relevant to public decency in America weaken or strengthen our freedom? A recent World Values Survey overseen by the University of Michigan showed it is not Western political values that are disdained in Islamic nations, but Western cultural values. Can this be surprising given that now, in the United States, any informal association by a public entity with widely held traditional standards for decent behavior is illegal?

A free society cannot function without a virtuous citizenry. A country populated by scoundrels will not be long for this world even if it has a beautifully constructed constitution. So the question remains whether or not there is any objective standard for decent and honorable behavior. I would say yes – the Ten Commandments. Clearly, every individual struggles with choosing discipline to do what they believe to be right. However, personal struggle is a different issue from whether there exists any social sense of common standards of good and evil, right and wrong.

Children are profoundly influenced by the messages they get from popular American culture and as would be expected in a culture where moral standards are being marginalized, sexual promiscuity and unwed births skyrocket. Of black women, 68.5 percent of births are to unwed mothers, almost three times higher than in 1965. Of white women 20 and 24 years, 38.2 percent of births are out of wedlock, 16 percent higher than where black unmarried births were in the mid ’60s.

Talented young blacks like Kobe Bryant aspire to using their natural gifts to “making it” in America. Unfortunately, “making it” increasingly means a license to abuse others, whether a wife or a groupie, or, as we increasingly see, business colleagues and customers. Blacks know – or certainly should know – that abuse of others is the original sin of this great country.

As mainstream America removes the Ten Commandments from its schoolrooms and courtrooms, black leaders and educators must work even harder to assure they are not lost. Today’s black reality already mirrors what is in store for our entire nation devoid of these universal standards of decency.

And if we cannot get it right here, what American values will be exported as we attempt to liberate the oppressed in the rest of the world?

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