A House committee Wednesday morning approved a constitutional amendment that would authorize governments and schools to display the Ten Commandments in public.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, would allow public schools and public bodies to display “historically significant displays which reflect the foundations of the rule of law in America, notwithstanding that such displays may also have religious significance.”
The Senate approved the measure last month 23 to 1. The committee approved the amendment on a voice vote; it now goes to the House of Representatives. If approved there, the amendment would go to voters in 2014.
As introduced, the bill explicitly authorized the display of the Ten Commandments. Dial said at a meeting of the House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections committee that the language was changed in an attempt to stave off potential lawsuits.
“That would certainly result in us going to court, because of challenges based on religious content,” he said.
After the meeting, Dial said he hoped the measure would defend local communities that wanted to display the Ten Commandments.
“We changed to historic significant religious documents,” he said. “That would include the Ten Commandments, that would include the Pledge of Allegiance, you could even display a coin that said ‘In God We Trust’ in your building and not worry about being sued by someone.”
Dial argued that the Ten Commandments would be considered a “historically significant” document, claiming the Founding Fathers had implemented it in the creation of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a similar argument made in Stone v. Graham, a 1980 decision that struck down a Kentucky statute requiring the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public school classrooms.
The Kentucky statute required displays of the Ten Commandments to include language saying the “secular application” of the Ten Commandments “is clearly seen in its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law of the United States.” The Supreme Court said the Ten Commandments were a “sacred text,” and that “no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact.”
“The Commandments do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters, such as honoring one’s parents, killing or murder,” the court wrote. “Rather, the first part of the Commandments concerns the religious duties of believers: Worshipping the Lord God alone, avoiding idolatry, not using the Lord’s name in vain, and observing the Sabbath Day.”
The historically significant context, Dial said afterward, would not authorize the display of other religious documents, such as the Qu’ran.
Dial argued that the display of the commandments, particularly the Fifth Commandment’s prohibition of killing, would be “worth it” if sight of the commandment inspired a student to avoid violent acts. That drew skepticism from Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham.
“People see these words every day, and I don’t think they’ve stopped anyone yet,” Givan said after the meeting. “You have to have the mindset, as well as the heart, not to kill.”
– posted by Brian Lyman