June 14, 2011
The Baton Rouge Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church
and State has urged the state Senate to reject a bill calling for the
display of the Ten Commandments at the state capitol.
A government-sponsored religious display such as this, says the AU
affiliate, would divide Louisiana residents and possibly lead to
“The Louisiana state government should not meddle in religious
matters,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans
United. “If legislators want an educational display about the law at the
capitol, I’d recommend they put up a monument to the Bill of Rights.”
In a letter sent today
to Sen. Robert W. “Bob” Kostelka, chairman of the Committee on Senate
and Governmental Affairs, Thomas J. Hannie Jr., Ph.D., president of AU’s
Baton Rouge Chapter, laid out the case against HB 277.
Hannie asserted that the Commandments are clearly a religious text.
Thus, government posting of the document amounts to state promotion of
religion. In addition, he pointed out that Christian and Jewish groups
do not agree on the wording or listing of the commandments.
“Even adherents to the Commandments have significant disagreements
about their text and meaning,” observed Hannie in the letter. “The
disagreements lie not only among Jews and Christians, but among
Catholics, Lutherans, and other Protestants. Nor do the Commandments
hold religious meaning for Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, or the
many Louisianans who practice other religions or no religion at all.
Because the Ten Commandments are a religious text for some – but by no
means all – Louisianans, authorizing the government to display them is
fraught with constitutional risk.”
The letter goes on to assert that government display of sectarian texts is inherently divisive in a pluralistic society.
“This bill would authorize the government to place a religious text
that is sacred for only some religions on the state capitol grounds – a
place where tens of thousands of Louisianans come every year to petition
their government and learn about the history of the State,” reads the
The bill has already passed the Louisiana House of Representatives.
Its supporters say the measure is modeled on a Commandments display at
the state capitol in Texas that survived review before the U.S. Supreme
Court. But Americans United says the Texas display is different and was
allowed to stay in part because of its age. Louisiana’s new display is
likely to provoke a legal challenge, says AU.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization
educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.