ACLU official: ‘Trojan Horse’ bill would sneak religious code into Illinois schools

Friday, February 11, 2000

Illinois State ...
Illinois State Rep. Jim Fowler, D-Harrisburg, argues in favor of bill to allow public schools to post Ten Commandments, even though teachers would not be able to talk about them, during Illinois House committee hearing at state Capitol in Springfield Feb. 9.

Public schools would be permitted to post the Ten Commandments under a measure approved by an Illinois House committee this week.

House Bill 3854, co-sponsored by state Rep. James D. Fowler, D-Harrisburg and state Rep. Larry D. Woolard, D-Carterville, would amend the Illinois school code to allow school administrators “to read or post certain historical documents, writings, and records.” The list includes 11 different documents, including the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence and the national anthem.

However, an amendment included with the bill would allow school personnel to read or post any “historical document, writing, or record (not just those documents, writings, and records that are listed)” and would likewise prevent censorship based on religious references the document might contain.

The “any” language would open the door for the posting of the Ten Commandments, said Ed Yohnka, director of the ACLU’s Chicago office. Yohnka says the proposed legislation is “a Trojan Horse bill.”

“[Rep.] Fowler made it quite clear (in the committee hearings) that the purpose of this bill is to get people to post the Ten Commandments (and that) the other historical documents are simply companion pieces,” Yohnka said.

The thinking of the House members, Yohnka said, “is that they can cloak the Ten Commandments in enough general historical, patriotic material to make people believe somehow that they aren’t pursuing a religious purpose.”

Calls to Fowler and Woolard have not been returned.

The bill is slated for a yet-to-be scheduled second reading with the full Illinois House, at which time members will have the opportunity to debate it. A third reading will then be scheduled for members to vote on the bill’s passage.

Last December school officials in Harrisburg took down a display of the Ten Commandments after the ACLU threatened a lawsuit against the district. The ACLU had claimed the display violated the separation of church and state.