By Sandhya Bathija
Forget what the Constitution and the courts say, Alabama State Sen. Gerald Dial knows best.
On Tuesday, Dial introduced for the seventh time in his 10 years in office a bill that would amend the state constitution to encourage display of the Ten Commandments in public schools and other governmental buildings.
According to Dial, the Commandments don’t favor any particular religious belief; they’re just “rules we ought to live by.”
He told The Anniston Star, “If it keeps one person from going berserk or killing folks then it’s worth the effort.”
Dial sees no conflict between his proposal and previous case law. He says there is no correlation between his measure and a 2003 federal appeals court decision ordering the removal of a Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building. That judgment declared the Decalogue a (surprise, surprise) religious text and said it should not be displayed by public officials on public land.
When Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore – the man responsible for placing the 2.5-ton granite sculpture in the lobby of the judicial building – refused to follow the court’s ruling, he was ejected from office.
You’d think that Dial would take the hint.
But the Lineville Republican has the backing of some aggressive Religious Right groups, including Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law.
John Eidsmoe, a member of the Foundation’s legal team, said a number of different religions accept the Ten Commandments.
“I think you’d have a hard time saying the Ten Commandments are distinctly religious,” Eidsmoe told the newspaper. “They’re an expression of the basic precepts that just about every society has been built upon.”
I’m not sure all of the 2,000 different religious groups and the 20 percent of nonbelievers in America would agree with that assertion. And it’s clear the courts don’t agree, either.
As AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told the local newspaper, “[The Commandments] are believed to come from God. How that could not be seen as promotion of religion is literally beyond any rational belief.”
It isn’t rational, but it’s the best argument Dial has to sneak his personal religious beliefs into our public schools and public buildings. It’s a well-known Religious Right strategy to argue that sacred religious texts and symbols are secular as a way to get around the Constitution and the separation of church and state.
If the bill passes, Dial claims he and the measure’s five other sponsors will provide free laminated copies of the Commandments to schools that wish to display them.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Here’s an alternative: why don’t Dial and Co. send laminated copies of the Bill of Rights to all state schools? That would be educational and more in keeping with the Founders’ vision for America.