MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – The Ten Commandments could be displayed in Alabama public schools and state government buildings if mixed with historical and education documents, under a proposed constitutional amendment approved Thursday by the Alabama House of Representatives.
Lawmakers voted 77-19 in favor of the measure, which now moves to the Alabama Senate. Voters must also approve the amendment for it to become law.
“This country was founded on godly principles. … That’s our roots,” said bill sponsor Rep. DuWayne Bridges, R-Valley. “We have a right to go back to what our roots are.”
Bridges said people would be free to worship how they choose and that the displays would not promote a particular religious view. Opponents predicted the displays would prompt lawsuits and be looked on by the courts as illegal attempts to establish a preferred religion in Alabama.
“Our courts and our Constitution have spoken on this issue,” said Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa.
Bridges predicted the constitutional amendment would pass overwhelmingly and that he was upholding his oath of office by doing what voters wanted.
“Part of the oath I took was to uphold the Constitution,” England replied. “My argument to you could be right now, I’m upholding my oath by telling you there have been numerous court decisions that do not allow the display of this document because of its religious foundation and the appearance it gives that it is state-established religion.”
The proposed legislation says the Ten Commandments displays must adhere to “constitutional requirements, including, but not limited to, being intermingled with historical or educational items.” The bill does not say how many such items should be added.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 struck down Ten Commandment displays in two Kentucky courthouses. However, the court approved a display on that was combined with nearly 40 other monuments and markers on the Texas Capitol lawn.
After reading the Ten Commandments on the House floor, Rep. Richard Baughn, R-Lynn, said, “I don’t know why anybody would disagree with these ten.”
“We are the greatest nation on the Earth because God’s hand of blessing has been on us,” Baughn said.
The debate digressed into exchanges where lawmakers sometimes incorrectly named commandments, discussed the age of Jesus and speculated on if the people behind the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church were in heaven or hell.
Some lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill, suggesting that Bible verses or a copy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech should be included in Ten Commandment displays.
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