By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
Controversy over the public display of the Ten Commandments has again and again reared its head since the removal of Chief Justice Roy Moore in 2003 because of his refusal to comply with now-recently retired Federal District Court Judge Myron Thompson’s injunction to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the judicial building because of its violation of the First Amendment.
This 2014 legislative session, which begins tomorrow, Senators Dial and Holley and Representative Bridges, all Republicans, have introduced matching legislation that would put to a statewide vote a Constitutional amendment that “would provide that property belonging to the state may be used to display the Ten Commandments and that the right to display the Ten Commandments on property owned or administrated by a public school or public body is not restrained or abridged.”
Because the rule above would concededly be on its face unconstitutional under Supreme Court precedents, though, a standard exception is included:
“The Ten Commandments shall be displayed in a manner that complies with constitutional requirements, including, but not limited to, being intermingled with historical or educational items, or both, in a larger display within or on property owned or administrated by a public school or public body.”
While GOP leadership, according to many, want a silent election year-legislative session, it appears some others have other things ideas in mind. Political commentator and insider Steve Flowers recently wrote, “Usually legislatures do not do much other than pass the budgets in a campaign year session. They especially do not try to tackle any controversial issues that could stir up any ire with voters. However, this current group of legislators will tackle anything controversial as long as it has a right wing slant to it.”
Similar measures in other states have proved to be costly, though, in more ways than one.
To begin with, some states which have enacted similar legislation have incurred massive legal costs in defending such laws’ constitutionality in court. One state was forced to pay the American Civil Liberties Union a six figure settlement of legal fees in Ten Commandment legislation.
The proposed constitutional amendment does, however, deal with this specific issue. It expressly provides that no “state funds” will be used to defend the law.
Surprisingly, though, the biggest negative outcome might come from somewhere very unexpected: hell.
An Oklahoma satanist group recently applied for the ability to erect a satan statue aside the Ten Commandments in compliance with an exception in their law nearly identical to the one written in the Alabama proposal.
As the ACLU of Oklahoma’s Legal Director put it, “If the government creates a forum out there, if we are allowing people to speak their mind, then of course people will speak their mind and sometimes those people are not the ones that the state might want to speak their minds.”
That’s not all, either.
Legally, the ACLU is not supporting the Satanist group because it would be a conflict of interest in their primary challenge against the Ten Commandments statue, in which the plaintiff is a Baptist minister who says that referring to the Ten Commandments as just a historical or secular document as Oklahoma’s law does — and as Alabama’s would â€“ is a “slap in the face” to people who use the Ten Commandments in their day to day religious beliefs.
So while a revitalization of the Ten Commandments issue may seemingly have political value right now, the correct “right wing slant” that Steve Flowers described, it may not be so positive for Alabama further down the road. The road to hell is, they say, is paved with good intention, but that is an issue for the people’s representatives, and eventually,maybe, the citizens of Alabama themselves to decide.