Ten Commandments measure introduced in Michigan House

Thursday, October 12, 2000

A measure recently introduced in the Michigan House would allow
posting of the Ten Commandments on public property if they are displayed with
other objects of historical significance.

Michigan House Bill No. 6048, introduced on Sept. 28 by Rep. Robert M.
Gosselin, stipulates three conditions:

The Ten Commandments must be “displayed with other documents,
public records, or objects of historical significance that have formed and
influenced the legal or governmental system of the United States.”

The commandments must be displayed “in the same manner” as the
other documents.

The display must not focus more attention on the commandments
than on the other documents.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Stone v. Graham that posting the commandments in
public elementary schools in Kentucky violated the establishment clause of the
First Amendment.

“The pre-eminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on
schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature,” the high court concluded in
Stone. “The Ten Commandments are
undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, and no legislative
recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact.”

However, earlier this year a federal judge in Indiana ruled that a
6-foot-high Ten Commandments monument placed in front of courthouse in the city
of Elkhart did not violate the establishment clause.

The judge wrote: “Although the text of the Ten Commandments dominates
the monument, it cannot be said that the message of the monument is exclusively
religious. A reasonable observer would know that the city had included the
monument as part of its overall collection of displays of historical and
cultural significance.”

Robert O’Neil, who teaches a church-state course at the University of
Virginia law school, says the Michigan measure has constitutionally fatal

“First, the bill singles out the Ten Commandments and therefore can be
seen as the government recognizing and endorsing the Ten Commandments,” he
said. “Also, there is no attempt in the bill to even recite a secular purpose
for the measure.”

The Michigan bill has been referred to the House Committee on
Constitutional Law and Ethics. No hearing date has been set.

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