MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama voters next month will decide a constitutional amendment regarding the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools and government buildings.
The proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution says schools and public buildings can display the Ten Commandments as long as it is done in a way that “complies with constitutional requirements” such as being intermingled with historical documents.
Lawyers for groups who have argued both for and against the legality of such religious displays said the larger impact of the amendment could be encouraging schools and governments to put up the Ten Commandments — something that may or may not draw a legal challenge depending on how it is done.
“On one hand, it really doesn’t do anything. It basically says you can post the Ten Commandments as long as you post them in a constitutional manner — which can be done today,” Randall Marshall of the ACLU of Alabama said of the amendment.
“The other hand though is I think that this is going to lead, more than likely, a school district to think that now if this passes they have the right to post the Ten Commandments. ….. A school district just posting the Ten Commandment as a stand alone document is going to find themselves getting sued. It’s going to be held to be unconstitutional,” Marshall said.
Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel, which has defended Ten Commandments displays in several states, said the language will encourage people to display the Ten Commandments by giving them some guidance.
“It doesn’t change what the U.S. Supreme Court would do on something of this nature other than in that area it would give comfort, I guess, or some guidance to the display of the Ten Commandments,” Staver said.
The measure was approved by the Alabama Legislature this year in a largely party line vote with supporters saying it would send a message about the state’s beliefs and some opponents deriding it as a political trick intended to drive conservative voters to the polls in an election year.
Alabama is revisiting the issue 15 years after former Chief Justice Roy Moore was removed from office for disobeying a federal judge’s order to remove a 5,280-pound granite Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the state judicial building.
Dean Young, a Christian activist who supported Moore during that fight, created and funded a political action committee to promote the amendment. Young said the amendment’s passage will send a message that state wants to “acknowledge God and that’s the Christian God on that this nation was founded on.”
He predicted Alabamians will overwhelmingly approve the amendment on Nov. 6 and the displays will go up across the state.
The amendment vote comes at a time that some evangelicals are hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court will take a more favorable view of such displays.
State Sen. Gerald Dial, a Republican from Lineville pushed the legislation for more than a decade before it was approved last year in his final legislative session. It finally passed after Dial added the caveat that the displays had to be constitutional and a provision saying state funds couldn’t be used to defend a lawsuit against the amendment.