South Dakota joins call for Ten Commandments in public schools

Wednesday, March 22, 2000

Gov. William J....
Gov. William J. Janklow

South Dakota is the second state this month to enact legislation allowing for the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools.

Ignoring a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that barred the religious codes from being posted in public schools, the two states now have laws that claim it is constitutional for them to be placed on public school grounds.

Last week, Gov. William J. Janklow signed South Dakota House Bill 1261, which states that the public schools are permitted to display the Ten Commandments “along with other objects and documents of cultural, legal or historical significance that have formed and influenced the legal and governmental systems of the United States and the State of South Dakota.” Indiana Gov. Frank O’Bannon has also signed into law a bill that allows schools to post the Ten Commandments.

The Supreme Court’s 1980 decision in Stone v. Graham found that the Ten Commandments form a religious text that could not constitutionally be placed in public school classrooms with the justification that the commandments constituted “the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization.”

Jennifer Ring, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Dakotas, said she had “very little doubt that this bill will be unconstitutional as applied.”

“I don’t have a question as to what will unfold; some teacher will put up the Ten Commandments and nothing else and that action won’t withstand a constitutional challenge,” she said.

Ring added that her office had been inundated with calls from citizens concerned about the law’s potential effect.

At a press conference, Janklow described his support for the bill. “If you don’t believe in God, it’s not any problem to suggest whether or not you have any other gods before you,” Janklow said, according to a transcript. “To the extent you do, you get to pick who it is because it doesn’t tell you who god is.”

Ring said she was dismayed at Janklow’s and the Legislature’s actions.

“I think, basically, they don’t understand the First Amendment and they don’t agree with the Supreme Court’s rulings,” she said. “I believe they want a state religion, as long as it’s theirs.”