WASHINGTON (Apr. 7)
The budget resolution passed by the U.S. Senate last week contains a curious non sequitur: Thou shalt not remove the Ten Commandments from government offices.
As the Senate hurried to adopt the budget resolution before leaving for its spring recess, lawmakers slipped in an amendment endorsing the display of the Ten Commandments at courthouses and other government buildings. The measure passed by a voice vote.
The move, aimed at supporting a U.S. circuit judge in Alabama caught in a legal squabble over his practice of posting of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, follows similar action taken by the House of Representatives last year.
But whereas the House resolution, which passed by a vote of 295-125, drew widespread criticism from church-state watchdogs, the Senate resolution drew a milder reaction because language was added stating that displays should be permitted “so long as it is consistent with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
It remains for the courts to decide, however, whether such displays would be consistent with First Amendment rights.
Neither measure carries the force of law and will not directly impact the legal outcome of the Alabama case.
“We’ve got to end the hostility toward the display of the Ten Commandments in public places,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who sponsored the Senate resolution.
“There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits a display” like Judge Roy Moore’s in Etowah County, Ala., he said, referring to the Alabama case.
Richard Foltin, legislative director and counsel for the American Jewish Committee, called the measure “unnecessary,” though largely harmless, saying, “With God’s help, the Ten Commandments will remain the foundation of our faith and our fellow faiths without the Senate weighing in.”
Other church-state watchdogs were more critical.
“I have a commandment for the Senate: Thou shalt not play politics with religion,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. “This is shameless political posturing.”