Apr 03, 1998

Washington, D.C. — A Senate resolution endorsing the display of the Ten Commandments at courthouses and other government buildings is grossly irresponsible and a violation of church-state separation, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) sponsored a resolution encouraging the display of the Ten Commandments at government facilities, especially courthouses. The measure, offered as Amendment 2252 to the congressional budget bill, is tentatively scheduled for debate and a vote today.

The resolution springs in part from a church-state battle in Alabama involving Judge Roy Moore, a state court judge who displays a Protestant version of the Ten Commandments on his courtroom walls and invites Christian clergy to pray over juries.

"I have a commandment for the Senate: Thou shalt not play politics with religion," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Since the days of Moses, the Ten Commandments seem to have done quite well without the help of the U.S. Senate."

Lynn noted that jurors, defendants and others are often required to be at courthouses. Therefore, he said, judges and other government officials may not endorse religious displays that are certain to make some citizens feel excluded.

The Ten Commandments ploy, Lynn said, is undoubtedly a payoff to James Dobson, Pat Robertson and other Religious Right leaders who have been harshly critical of the Republican leadership recently. "It's a sad day when TV preachers and other right-wing religious broadcasters who espouse theocracy can set the agenda for the U.S. Senate," he said.

Lynn said the U.S. Supreme Court struck down display of the Ten Commandments in the Kentucky public schools in 1980. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Ten Commandments display at a Georgia courthouse in 1994.