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Posted on Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 5:17 a.m.

American Bible: What's essential in your law of the land?

By Wayne Baker

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Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing a new collection of the stories that define America, by noted author Stephen Prothero.

Today we complete our tour of American Bible, Stephen Prothero’s latest book. It’s a compendium of secular writings that unite, divide, and define America. The book is organized in 10 sections, patterned after the Old and New Testaments. We’ve covered “Genesis” (the Declaration of Independence and other beginnings), “Chronicles” (stories like Uncle Tom’s Cabin), “Proverbs” (memorable wise sayings), and “Psalms” (The Star Spangled Banner and other patriotic songs). Now, let’s consider “Law” — the secular version of religious codes like the Ten Commandments.

Many laws, rulings, and commentary could be included in “Law.” Prothero chooses three: the U.S. Constitution, Brown v. Board of Education, and Roe v. Wade. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, making it clear choice. The next two are landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions, rulings that deeply changed America. Brown declared that separate is not equal when it comes to education. Roe made abortion legal in certain circumstances.

What else ought to be in “law”? It’s impossible to predict landmark cases, but if I had to pick from recent or pending Supreme Court decisions, I would nominate two: Citizens United and also Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Citizens United will become a landmark case if it turns out that the unleashed torrent of untraceable money becomes a factor in local, state, and federal elections. The Supreme Court’s decision later this month about the constitutionality of the health care law, especially the “individual mandate” that requires everyone to obtain insurance or pay penalties, could be a landmark case no matter which way the court decides.

Do you agree with Prothero's three choices?

Do you think my two nominations will become landmark case?

What's your nomination for "Law"?

Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.