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 litigation.
“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 letter.
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.