Written by Don Byrd
Via Religion Clause, the Alabama legislature passed a bill last week that submits a state constitutional amendment to voters. The language of the amendment affirms that “No person shall be compelled to attend, or, against his or her consent, to contribute to the erection or support of any place of religious worship, or to pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for the support of any minister of the gospel.”
Then it adds:
Property belonging to the state may be used to display the Ten Commandments, and the right of a public school and public body to display the Ten Commandments on property owned or administrated by a public school or public body in this state is not restrained or abridged.
Of course, any display of the Ten Commandments on public land is still subject to scrutiny under the federal Constitution. The Alabama amendment notes that any such display “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.”
And, to address concerns that legal challenges to the measure will drain public resources (as is often the case), the amendment further specifies that “[n]o public funds may be expended in defense of the constitutionality of this amendment.”
Associated Press reports:
Democratic critics said the proposal violates the separation of church and state and would incite federal lawsuits that cost the state money.
“I’m opposed to the bill because it’s unconstitutional and I’m trying to be fiscally conservative to try to save the state and courts money if they put it up there and it gets struck down,” said Rep. Marcel Black, a Democrat.
Republicans said they supported the bill because the Founding Fathers expressed their Christian faith. The proposed amendment reaffirms religious liberty, which is already under law.
“I wish and pray that we get to a point where people would be free to express faith without fear of being sued,” said Rep. Danny Garrett, a Republican.
Of course, *people* can express their faith, but the government should represent all constituents regardless of religious belief. When the government expresses a religious perspective it risks being perceived as an official endorsement, which the U.S. Constitution prohibits. Why shouldn’t citizens sue to protect against religious favoritism by government? Acting as an elected official carries the weight and responsibility of state action.
As for the amendment itself, constitutional Ten Commandment monuments are already allowed; unconstitutional displays already prohibited. Nothing about this change to the Alabama Constitution would change that. So, what’s the point?