By Simon Brown
If Georgia lawmakers get their way, a copy of the Ten Commandments could be displayed in every single government building in the state. And that includes public schools!
The Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill 161-0 on Tuesday that would allow numerous documents that legislators consider “foundational” to the U.S. legal system to be displayed in all sorts of places. The featured items would include the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact and the Ten Commandments.
HB 766 is an expansion of a 2006 law that authorized posting of the Commandments and other historical documents in Georgia courthouses and other judicial facilities.
The “Foundations of American Law and Government” measure was passed in response to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Commandments display in two Kentucky courthouses. The justices found the Decalogue posting to be the equivalent of a state endorsement of religion.
The Supreme Court was exactly right, and the idea that the Ten Commandments are part of the foundation of government in the United States is simply untrue. The Constitution makes no mention of the Decalogue, and the laws of the United States are secular, not religious.
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told the Associated Press that the Georgia bill is wrong-headed.
“There's a faulty premise there,” he said, “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.”
Beyond those Commandments mentioned by Lynn (who happens to be an ordained minister), the U.S. law books are absent provisions on idolatry and coveting your neighbor’s house or his spouse.
By my count, just three of the Commandments – murder, theft and bearing false witness in court -- are found in the laws of the United States in some shape or form. Unless you’re playing baseball, batting .300 is hardly great, and it’s far from enough evidence that the Commandments are a “foundational” document.
And, of course, murder, theft and lying in court are banned pretty much everywhere around the world. Those are not exactly unique proscriptions in American law sparked by alleged reliance on religion.
The Georgia bill says “there is a need to educate and inform the public about the history and background of American law.” There is indeed! We’re all for education, but this “Foundations of American Law and Government” business is purely misinformation.
It’s both sad and disturbing that the measure breezed through the Georgia House, and according to the AP, the bill is likely to face little resistance from the Georgia Senate. Lynn told the wire service that expanding the Georgia law could provoke a lawsuit.
“This is the kind of thing that raises a gigantic red flag, and on that flag are the words, ‘Sue us,’” he said.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, and the Senate has enough sense to kill this misguided bill.