A committee of the Virginia Senate has rejected a bill that would have required the State Board of Education to issue guidelines for posting the Ten Commandments in public schools. The controversial measure--HB 161, sponsored by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter-- passed the House of Delegates on a 52-46 vote earlier in the session, but failed in the Senate Health and Education Committee this morning, with nine members voting against and six for.
"Rest assured, every student has a constitutional right to carry a copy of the Ten Commandments to school. Schools may even study the Ten Commandments as part of a course on the history of religion, and that may mean displaying it temporarily in the same way similar documents representing other religions are displayed," said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. "Opponents of this bill were not trying to diminish the Ten Commandments in any way."
"But the intent of this bill was to give the government a specific roll in promoting the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools," said Willis. "That violates separation of church and state under every interpretation of every Supreme Court decision on religion in public schools."
Willis added, "When proponents of the bill argued that the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools does not violate separation of church and state because the Ten Commandments is not a religious document, the bill should have been defeated immediately. That argument not only contradicts the Supreme Court's finding that the Ten Commandments is a religious document, but it also slights the many religious people in this nation who view the Ten Commandments as an integral part of their faith."
"The Senate Committee both honored the principle of separation of church and state and avoided trivializing religion when it defeated this bill, " said Willis.
A memo from the ACLU of Virginia delivered to members of the Senate Health and Education Committee is found at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20020214Ten-Commandments-Voted-Down.pdf.

Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022 Laura LaFay, Associate Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022 Dr. Robert S. Alley, Professor of Humanities Emeritus, 804-288-8807

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