April 2012 Church & State | People & Events

Georgia legislators are promoting a bill that would permit display of the Ten Commandments in every government building in the state, including public schools.

The Georgia House of Representatives in late February unanimously passed a bill that would allow numerous documents that legislators consider “foundational” to the U.S. legal system to be displayed in various government buildings. The featured items would include the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, the national motto, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the preamble of the Georgia Constitution, the Star-Spangled Banner and a picture of Lady Justice.

The bill, HB 766, is an expansion of a 2006 law that authorized posting of the Commandments and other historical documents in Georgia judicial facilities. The new legislation would include public schools, which critics say makes it especially problematic.

In its 1980 Stone v. Graham decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Kentucky law mandating the posting of the Commandments in public schools. Since then, other federal courts have invalidated Decalogue displays at courthouses. Most recently, a federal court ruled against a Commandments monument at the Dixie County Courthouse in Florida.

Critics of the Georgia measure also scored it for giving inaccurate information about the sources of American law.

“There’s a faulty premise there,” Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told the Associated Press, “and that is that the Ten Commandments has anything to do with the civil laws of the United States. It does not, of course. We don’t make it illegal to dishonor our mother and father. We don’t have blasphemy laws.”

Added Lynn, “This is the kind of thing that raises a gigantic red flag, and on that flag are the words, ‘Sue us.’”

Similar measures are also pending in Tennessee and Alabama.

In Tennessee, HB 2658 would allow the posting of “certain historical documents” in public schools and other government buildings. The Ten Commandments is included, along with the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence.

The Alabama bill, SB 7, would alter the state constitution to allow the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools, courthouses and other government buildings.

Americans United has written to lawmakers in both states urging them to oppose the measures.