S.C. governor OKs allowing commandments in displays

Thursday, June 12, 2008

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer could be part of displays at public buildings soon under a bill Gov. Mark Sanford signed into law last night.

The Ten Commandments would be part of displays of more than dozen other documents including the Magna Carta and Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech that supporters say would provide historical context for the framing of the nation's laws. But detractors say it's a not-so-veiled effort to put faith in the public square.

The Republican governor signed the bill last night after getting legal advice from Attorney General Henry McMaster earlier in the day.

In the nonbinding legal opinion, McMaster said the prayer and commandments have a secular purpose and “an established place in teaching of American constitutional history and civic virtue.” Apart from their sectarian symbolism, they would, as part of a display “serve the function of teaching history, morality, ethics, integrity and virtue.”

Because of that, the displays outlined by the Legislature would stand up to a court challenge, McMaster wrote.

But the state was already expected to face legal challenges over the public display of faith. Last week, Sanford let a bill become law without his signature that lets the state sell license tags with a cross and “I Believe” on them.

On May 27, Sanford signed into law a bill to allow public bodies to pray before official meetings. The Public Prayer and Invocation Act outlines three ways to pray that should hold up under constitutional challenge, according to the text of the bill. Prayers can be delivered by an elected chaplain, members of the body on a rotating basis or local religious leaders invited to meetings.

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