May 2012 Church & State | People & Events

The Georgia legislature has approved a bill that would encourage Ten Commandments displays in public schools and other government buildings.

HB 766 passed the Georgia House of Representatives unanimously and cleared the Senate on a 41-9 vote. At press time, it was pending before Gov. Nathan Deal, who is expected to sign it.

Georgia law already permits the display of the Commandments and other documents that are “foundations of American law and government” at courthouses. The new law expands the list of government buildings where the displays may be posted.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Thomas Benton (R-Jefferson), insisted that the measure is legal because the Commandments will be posted with other documents, including the Mayflower Compact, the Magna Carta and the preamble of the Georgia Constitution.

But Americans United begged to differ. Maggie Garrett, AU’s legislative director, told The Christian Post that the bill is legally problematic, especially as it relates to public schools.

“The courts have already held that Ten Commandments displays in public schools raise even more heightened constitutional concerns than in other buildings because children are young, impressionable and a captive audience,” Garrett said.

Americans United has sued to block government promotion of the Ten Commandments in other states. In one famous case, AU, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center sued to stop Roy Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, from displaying a massive Commandments monument in a state judicial building.

Supporters of Commandments displays often claim that American law is based on the Decalogue. AU says this view is erroneous.

In an op-ed published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn charged that politicians are just trying to score points with voters by backing religious displays.

“The purpose of such displays is not to educate,” Lynn wrote. “It’s to make a political statement that religion and government should be joined at the hip. Such displays do a disservice to our residents.

“By elevating the Ten Commandments as the font of all law,” he continued, “we ignore the rich sources that have contributed to the nation’s legal foundation. The Ten Commandments are undoubtedly important to many Christians and Jews. They are not the basis of American law.”

Added Lynn, “A simple reading of the Ten Commandments bears this out. Our laws do not punish people for worshipping ‘false’ gods or for failing to honor the Sabbath.”

A similar measure has also been passed in Tennessee and is pending before Gov. Bill Haslam. HB 2658 would permit public schools and other government building to post “certain historical documents,” including the Ten Commandments.