March 2024 Church & State Magazine - March 2024

Utah legislator alters bill to compel schools to display Ten Commandments


A legislator in Utah who introduced a bill that would have required all public schools in the state to post the Ten Commandments altered it after pushback.

The original bill, introduced by Rep. Michael J. Petersen (R-North Logan) mandated that the Ten Commandments display be either a poster or a framed copy, and that it be at least 16 inches wide and 20 inches tall, reported in Salt Lake City.

The measure also required that public schools would have to display the Decalogue if copies of it were donated by private groups and met the size requirements.

Similar legislation was introduced in Texas last year, but it failed to pass. A measure is also pending in Oklahoma.

Clifford Rosky, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Utah, told KSL that he considers the proposed legislation, HB 269, to be a “blatant” violation of the First Amendment.

According to Rosky, “If you can’t pray in public schools — if the school can’t require prayer or teach children prayer — why would it be able to teach children the Ten Commandments? This is an attempt to teach the Ten Commandments. Why else would it need to be displayed in public schools if not to teach? You can’t teach children one religion and not the others.”

Petersen’s bill specifies that the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments be used in the classroom displays.

Asked to comment on the matter by the Salt Lake Tribune, Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, remarked, “Displaying an inherently religious message like the Ten Commandments in public schools is divisive and tells students their public school — a government institution — favors certain religions over others and over nonreligion. In America, every child must feel equally welcome in their own classroom, regardless of their or their family’s religious beliefs.”

Petersen may have been stung by the criticism of the bill. Last month, he rewrote the bill and scrapped the requirement that the Ten Commandments be posted in public schools. The retooled version of the bill states that the Ten Commandments may be discussed in Utah classrooms alongside other documents such as the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

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