Monthly Archives: June 2024

The Universal Ten: Commandments for our Time

Ten Universal Commandments

I was struck by the recent announcement that all public schools in the US state of Louisiana had to display the ten biblical commandments on the wall of each classroom. Personally, I like the idea of societies being clear about their values. It declares, “This is who we are”.

Unfortunately, the Ten Commandments from the Judeo-Christian tradition are not particularly useful guiding principles for a just and inclusive society. They are by their very nature exclusionary, creating divisions in societies that have a plurality of faiths (including Louisiana). Historically, across religious traditions, the Ten Commandments are not actually a universally agreed ten. Any version of the ten draws on a basket of possible commandments to make up some preferred ten. For example, and disturbingly given Louisiana’s civil war history, a prohibition against coveting your neighbor’s slaves is a part of some versions of the ten.

In a world grappling with polarization and division, it is crucial to champion a set of universal values that transcend religious, cultural, and political boundaries, while permitting individuals and groups to express those preferences. This is where the concept of “The Universal Ten” comes into play. Fortunately, we already have their foundation. Drawing from internationally recognized human rights instruments, here is a set of universal values that are inclusive, respectful of diversity, and focused on creating a just society for all. Importantly, these Universal Ten principles protect religious freedom while not favoring any single faith tradition (or no faith at all). They create a framework where all beliefs can be respected and practised freely, addressing the core concerns of those who support initiatives like the Louisiana mandate without exclusion or preferential treatment.

  1. Treat all human beings with equal dignity and respect, for they are of equal worth. [Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 1]
  2. Cherish and safeguard human life, for it is precious and should be protected. [UDHR, Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6]
  3. Denounce torture and all forms of cruel, inhuman treatment, for such things have no place in a just world. [Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)]
  4. Reject discrimination based on any aspect of a person’s identity, for everyone deserves equal treatment and opportunities. [UDHR, Article 2; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)]
  5. Work to ensure everyone has access to the necessities of life, for this is the foundation of a dignified existence. [International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Articles 11 and 12]
  6. Defend the rights of children to education, health, and a good standard of living, for they are the most vulnerable among us and the future of our world. [Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)]
  7. Uphold the right to freedom of expression and the press, for the ability to speak truth to power is essential to a free society. [UDHR, Article 19; ICCPR, Article 19]
  8. Respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, for personal convictions are a matter of individual autonomy. [UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 18]
  9. Protect the right to peaceful assembly and association, for there is strength and power in unity and solidarity. [UDHR, Articles 20; ICCPR, Articles 21 and 22]
  10. Champion the rights and inclusion of marginalized and underrepresented groups in society, for all people deserve equal opportunities and respect, regardless of their background or circumstances. [Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)]

Rather than dividing us, the Universal Ten unite us in our already recognised, shared humanity. Put that on a poster in every classroom!