Mississippi House backs public displays of Ten Commandments

Thursday, March 11, 2004

JACKSON, Miss. — After a brief debate over the mingling of church and state, the Mississippi House voted 94-18 yesterday for a bill allowing the Ten Commandments to be posted in any public building.

Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, said House Bill 1309 could create constitutional problems and force school districts and local governments to spend millions of dollars defending themselves in unwinnable lawsuits.

“A lot of the people who are supporting this don’t even practice the Ten Commandments. A lot of the authors don’t even practice the Ten Commandments,” Bailey said. “But yet we want to force it on everybody else because we think that it’s the right thing to do that we’re showing our religion. Our religion has to start in the heart somewhere.”

The bill was amended to also allow city halls or other public buildings to post the motto “In God We Trust” and the Beatitudes, listed in the book of Matthew. State law already requires “In God We Trust” to be posted in every public school classroom.

Rep. Jessica Sibley Upshaw, R-Diamondhead, said the state would not require posting of the religious texts but would give local governments the option. She said she believes that does not violate the Constitution.

“I do believe that it would be very beneficial to provide these sound principles and morals … so that people can be reminded of them and learn them if they’re not aware of them and hopefully modify their behavior,” Upshaw said.

The Mississippi vote came months after Alabama’s Supreme Court chief justice was forced out after he posted a two-ton Ten Commandments monument in the state’s justice building. Justice Roy Moore disobeyed a federal court order to remove the monument.

Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, said in an e-mail that he voted for the bill, but added: “We need to pass a law that prohibits politicians from calling on the sacred name of the Lord for political gains. I wish we knew how God felt about us.”

The bill, sponsored mostly by Republicans, moves to the Senate.

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