A Litmus Test of Biblical Proportions School Exhibit to Add Ten Commandments

By Stepzinski, Teresa | The Florida Times Union, November 10, 1999 | Go to article overview

A Litmus Test of Biblical Proportions School Exhibit to Add Ten Commandments


Stepzinski, Teresa, The Florida Times Union


BRUNSWICK -- Glynn County school board members are throwing down a gauntlet in the constitutional controversy over posting the Ten Commandments in public schools.

The Board of Education, voting unanimously, with one member absent Monday night, asked Superintendent William Young to "develop an educational exhibit of non-religious historical documents that will include the Ten Commandments."

The board also instructed, "to the extent possible, this exhibit will attempt to withstand existing constitutional parameters."

But board members did not decide whether to actually post the commandments. That issue was not raised for a vote by the panel.

Nor did board members set a deadline for Young to develop the display of documents.

"The commandments will probably be part of a larger exhibit including the Magna Carta and other very important documents in the history of government, including perhaps the Emancipation Proclamation," board Chairman Harlan Hambright said yesterday.

Gerry Weber, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia, said regardless of the rationale used by elected officials, it stills violates the U.S. and Georgia constitutions to display the commandments in public schools.

Weber said the school board's action Monday inherently and unfairly raises the commandments above the doctrines of other religious faiths and beliefs of individuals.

"They now have specifically required that the Ten Commandments be displayed. But unless the display is truly inclusive, diverse and non-discriminatory, there is no question that it will be a constitutional violation for Glynn County to post the commandments," Weber said.

Hambright said the proposed Glynn display won't violate the Constitution because it won't focus solely on the commandments. He said he felt confident that it would pass a constitutional challenge.

"It will be secular in nature and would not favor any one religious tenet over another. Nor would we be suggesting or advocating religion take precedence over non-religion," Hambright said.

Weber said the board will allow the schools to display every sort of doctrine, including those that school officials and the community might deem unacceptable.

"It's going to have to be a pretty big wall to display the commandments and everything else they will have to put up, too," Weber said.

Weber said if the school board decides to display the commandments, the ACLU most likely will file a lawsuit challenging the action.

The idea first was presented to the school board Oct. 25 by Mark Hall, a Brunswick car dealer, who offered to hang copies of the commandments in each of the county's public schools.

Hall was not present Monday, but six other people, including church leaders at the meeting, beseeched the school board to post the doctrine.

"The Ten Commandments is an opportunity to post a moral code that will protect our children. This is an opportunity for you to [restore] something that has been taken away in our country," the Rev. Gary Bacon said.

But parent Tony Alig spoke against displaying the commandments, noting that previous court decisions throughout the United States have ruled it unconstitutional.

Alig, who described himself as a "Christian and member of the Baptist Church," said posting the commandments would result in schools being required to post any and all doctrines, including those from militant and extremist groups.

"I, for one, do not like the idea of the county schools posting the religious tenets of satanic worship. . . . You are opening the door for militant speech that is hateful and divisive," Alig said.

Until Monday, donated copies of the commandments had been displayed in four public schools in the neighboring Pierce County School District based in Blackshear.

Weber said those displays were taken down after the organization notified Pierce school board members that posting the doctrine violated the constitution. …

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