A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Anita and I don't argue much. We've never argued about meatloaf (I like it; she doesn't), toothpaste (I meticulously squeeze the tube from the bottom; she doesn't) or dirty clothes strewn about the bedroom (my laundry goes in the hamper; hers doesn't).

We save our arguments for Big Picture stuff. I mean, REALLY Big Picture.

For example, our first argument was about the First Amendment to the Constitution. And no, not because we are almost old enough to have voted on it.

I was fresh out of journalism school, where I had become sort of a "free press" zealot. Anita was fresh out of the maternity ward, where she had just given birth to our second child, Joe. In fact, she was sitting in the rocking chair, patiently trying to calm our colicky son, when the argument broke out (subconsciously inspiring, I'm sure, his life-long desire to be a lawyer).

It started out innocently enough. I was telling her about a heated classroom discussion of pornography and whether or not it was protected by Constitutional provisions for free speech and a free press. "That's ridiculous," Anita said. "Who in their right mind would even think that pornography would be protected by the Bill of Rights?"

I looked at her, stunned, like I was seeing her for the first time.

"Well, me for one," I said, purposefully. "And pretty much everyone else in the class, including the professor. It's as plain as the nose on Warren Burger's face."

Anita was unimpressed. "Well, then you're wrong," she said with frustrating finality. "You and your class and your teacher and Warren Beatty. You're all wrong."

"How can we be wrong?" I asked, seething at the gall of this . . . this . . . non-journalist who didn't know the pre-eminent jurist of our time from Shirley MacLaine's kid brother. I reviewed with her several quotes from prominent philosophers and political scientists. I gave her points, counterpoints and counter-counterpoints, and then I waited for her response.

Anita has never been much of a debater not because she isn't capable, but because she prefers not to. To her, right is right and wrong is wrong, and there's nothing to be gained in arguing the point. So she just looked at me for a moment, cast aside all of the evidence stacked so neatly against her, and took one last shot at redeeming me from antipathetical hell.

"Do you really, truly think the Founding Fathers had this in mind when they wrote the First Amendment?" she asked. "Do you really, truly think they were trying to protect trash?"

I almost smiled at the thought of one of those men men who had a conniption at the sight of a feminine ankle coming face to . . . well . . . face with contemporary pornography. It would be difficult to argue that they could even conceive of such a thing.

"Well . . . no . . ." I stammered. "But that isn't the point . . ."

"You may not think so," she said, "but they would."

I've been thinking about that little exchange lately as people have debated the public placement of a monument honoring the Ten Commandments. And I can't help but wonder if those who are opposed to the monument really, truly think this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Whether or not one believes the Ten Commandments to be divinely inspired, it would be difficult to deny the importance of those teachings to the people who created the rule of law that governs this country. Like the Magna Carta and the Mayflower Compact, it seems to me that they can appropriately be memorialized for their historical impact, influence and example.

Really. Truly.

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--- Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through