Fighting Alabama’s Ten Commandments Legislation

There is no doubt that Alabama’s Legislative body has violated Amendment 1 of the Constitution of the United States. We can sue the state of Alabama and force this issue all the way through the Alabama Supreme Court and to the US Supreme Court where Alabama would lose just like every other state has lost in the past.

There is no doubt that Alabama’s Legislative body has violated Amendment 1 of the Constitution of the United States. We can sue the state of Alabama and force this issue all the way through the Alabama Supreme Court and to the US Supreme Court where Alabama would lose just like every other state has lost in the past.

  1. Kentucky, 1980: US Supreme Court rules that there is no secular purpose for posting the Ten Commandments in Stone v. Graham.
  2. Georgia, 1993: 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Ten Commandments display in a courthouse violated the Separation of Church and State in Harvey v. Cobb County.
  3. South Carolina, 1999: Judge Markley ruled that the display of the Ten Commandments in the Charleston City Council’s chambers violated the Separation of Church and State.
  4. Kentucky, 2000: Federal Judge Coffman ordered Kentucky’s state officials to remove displays that included the Ten Commandments from public schools and government buildings, stating that the plaques denoted an endorsement of a religion by the government.
  5. Indiana, 2000: The US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to remove a Ten Commandments monument because it violated the Establishment Clause.

The only downside I see with such litigation is that the state uses the taxpayer’s money to defend the very law that violates the freedoms of those same taxpayers. I am giving money to Alabama so they can defend themselves against me.

Which Decalogue shall we post? Protestant? Catholic? And what about the other version from the Bible?

The US Supreme Court has already set a precedent for the posting of Ten Commandments in government buildings; including public schools. Taking the issue to the US Supreme Court would more than likely result in the court stating that Alabama should reference prior decisions regarding this very issue. That would put the ball back into the Alabama Supreme Court; and we all know where the 10-1 GOP majority Alabama Supreme Court stands on this issue (especially now that Ten Commandments Boy himself is on the court).

Another problem I see with taking the case to the US Supreme Court is the issue of enforcement. If Alabama chooses to ignore the ruling of the US Supreme Court (as other states have done in the past) what will the federal government do about it? Will President Bush send in the National Guard to take over Alabama because the Governor refuses to comply with a US Supreme Court decision? Will Attorney General Ashcroft have the Governor of Alabama arrested and replaced with a governor that will obey the US Supreme Court?

Kentucky is currently ignoring a US Supreme Court decision regarding its use of the Ten Commandments. What has the federal government done to enforce the law in Kentucky? Absolutely nothing. Has the governor of Kentucky been arrested? Nope. Just a few weeks ago, the Ten Commandments proponents made an appearance on television begging Kentucky residents to donate more money so they can continue to fight to keep the Ten Commandments posted. Once again, the federal government has done absolutely nothing to enforce the law.

Of course, this has not always been the case. The federal government sent US Marshals and the National Guard to Mississippi to ensure that black students could enroll in college. Angry citizens shot several US Marshals and injured many more by throwing objects. The Governor of Mississippi at the time threatened to use the State Police against the US Marshals. Ultimately, however, he only prevented them from protecting the US Marshals. It is important to note that despite the injuries to US Marshals and the gunfire they were receiving, they never shot back at the crowd and maintained their line with only the use of tear gas.

President Kennedy pleaded with the governor of Mississippi on many occasions and tried to come to a peaceful agreement. Kennedy played every hand he had available until the governor forced Kennedy to use the National Guard. The citizens of Mississippi tore down highway signs and street signs causing a significant delay in the arrival of the National Guard and causing them to get lost a few times. The National Guard finally arrived on scene as the US Marshals were running out of options and tear gas.

So what happened to the governor of Mississippi? Did they arrest or impeach the governor? Did they remove him from office for violating federal desegregation laws, obstructing justice, and threatening federal police officers? Nope. Nothing was done because the governor finally succumbed but used Kennedy and the US Marshals as scapegoats when he addressed the citizens of Mississippi.

If we look at history, there is no precedent of removing a governor from office because a state refused to follow an opinion by the US Supreme Court. Opponents make out the US Supreme Court as the “bad guy,” using misinformation, propaganda, and mass hysteria to their advantage. One need only look at the recent decision regarding the Santa Fe football prayer to see how that strategy works.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t sue Alabama to get the Ten Commandments legislation repealed. What I am saying is that a victory in the US Supreme Court may only be symbolic.

So what do we do?

The best way to get the attention necessary is to take a three-pronged approach. Perhaps a Devil’s pitchfork would be a more appropriate visualization.

Prong One

The first prong is to take the battle to the US Supreme Court, via the Alabama Supreme Court, based on the violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States (Establishment Clause). A major organization such as the ACLU, Americans United, American Atheists, or People for the American Way, would have to handle this type of litigation. I am sure all three of those groups are watching Alabama very closely right now.

Of course, the group that does file suit against the state will need a volunteer to put their name on the suit. Is anyone ready to make history and be part of “your name v. State of Alabama?” Any takers?

As mentioned above, Prong One will mean that our tax dollars will defend the state’s position. While I hate to think Alabama will use my money to fight for the Ten Commandments, I have to remind myself it was my tax dollars that paid for the legislation, pays for the legislator’s salaries, and will pay for the design of the plaques, and the labor of the men and women that will install the plaques.

Either way, we pay for it.

If you do not want to volunteer your name, there is still a way you can help with Prong One.

Donate money to the ACLU and Americans United and specifically state that you want the money to go to fighting the Ten Commandments in Alabama. Often these groups will solicit funds for specific purposes, so if you are a member of any of those groups do not be surprised if you get a request for funds.

Also, do not forget to write a letter of opposition to you representatives in the state house and senate.

Prong Two

Prong Two and Prong Three go after the Alabama Constitution, but from different angles.

The Alabama Constitution of 1901 (the last of six revisions), Article 1, Section 3, Religious Freedom, states,

That no religion shall be established by law; that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship; that no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship; nor to pay any tithes, taxes, or other rate for building or repairing any place of worship, or for maintaining any minister or ministry; that no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state; and that the civil rights, privileges, and capacities of any citizen shall not be in any manner affected by his religious principles.

Posting the Ten Commandments in any government building, including public schools, clearly violates the Alabama Constitution. Posting the Ten Commandments gives preference, by law, to a religious sect (depending on what version of the Ten Commandments they choose), a religious society (Christianity or Judaism), depending on the version they choose, it gives preference to a denomination, and it also gives preference to a mode of worship (Thou shall have no other gods before me).

Larger constitutional organizations can file a lawsuit on a state level. A lawyer working pro bono can file a suit, as well. In each case, volunteers need to attach their name to the lawsuit.

The best part about this approach is that the lawsuits do not have to go exclusively after the Alabama House or Senate. We can sue any form of government that adopts the legislation and places the Ten Commandments illegally.

This multi-lawsuit approach may actually be the best approach, anyway. Overwhelming the state, counties, and school boards with litigation over the Ten Commandments will tap resources quickly. Many school boards, counties, cities, and townships will remove the plaques at the threat of a lawsuit in order to avoid litigation costs.

History shows that in most violations of the Separation of Church and State that we only need a notification of possible litigation for compliance by the facility with state and federal law. When the threat does not work, then litigation must go forward.

Here is where you can help. If your child’s school has posted the Ten Commandments, then let someone know. If your local school board is forcing the Ten Commandments on all the schools in its jurisdiction, then let someone know. If you local government is posting the Ten Commandments, then let someone know. If you are willing to add your name to the lawsuit, then make sure you take the appropriate action.

A major lawsuit going after the state and many smaller lawsuits going after counties, cities, and school boards will overwhelm the state’s finances and legal resources.

Prong Three

Prong Three is based on the Alabama Constitution just as Prong Two was. The difference between Prong Two and Three is approach and tactics.

Instead of suing the state for posting the Ten Commandments, sue the state for only posting the Ten Commandments. As stated above in the Alabama Constitution, legislators cannot pass laws that give preference to a religious sect, society, denomination, or means of worship. By posting the Ten Commandments, they have given such a preference.

Roy Moore’s Holy Tonnage in the Alabama Supreme Court

Now all we have to do is ask them to post every other religion and non-religion’s code of ethics, creeds, or other behavioral-type criterion. We sue the state for not going far enough, for not posting the ethical codes of all religions. Article 1, Section 3 of the Alabama Constitution is clear, you cannot make a law that creates a preference for one, but you can create a law that allows equality for all.

Who gets involved will depend on the version of the Ten Commandments that they choose. If Alabama chooses the Protestant version, then the Catholics and Jews should demand that their versions get equal time and treatment under the Alabama Constitution.

Non-Christians around Alabama should request equal time and treatment just like the Ten Commandments for their version of ethics. The Humanist Manifesto is a great place to start for atheists and humanists. Buddhists should demand the posting of the Noble Eightfold Path and the Five Wonderful Precepts.

The state should post the Nine Beliefs of Hinduism and the Five Pillars of Islam. Of course we can’t forget about the Nine Principles of Anuvrat, the Five Vratas (vows) of Jainas, or the Bahya Tapa and Abhyantara Tapa, which are internal and external austerities, respectively.

Of course, how can we forget the Five Points of Wiccan Belief with its wonderfully great Law of Return and the Ethic of Constant Improvement? Of course, I am sure Alabama’s legislators will be thrilled when they receive a request to post the Nine Satanic Statements and the Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth alongside the Ten Commandments.

Are you willing to submit your code of ethics for posting in Alabama alongside the Ten Commandments, making the new law constitutional by giving no preference to a single religion?

What Else Can We Do?

Help bring this issue to the citizens of Alabama. Let them know that Christianity is not the only religion in this state or country. Let them know about the different versions of the Ten Commandments. Write letters to your local newspapers and to your state representatives; including your congressional representative and senator. Write your local government officials when they start to consider adopting the new legislation. Let your children’s school know that you will not tolerate the posting the Ten Commandments.

Get involved with local and national groups that strive to maintain the Separation of Church and State. Donate money to organizations that are involved in the fight (that is a tax write-off, by the way).

Watch for peaceful protests, show up, and give your support. Volunteer your time to make buttons, signs, or other materials for protests.

Contribute no more than what you are capable. Do not go bankrupt trying to help and do not ruin your marriage or forget about your kids. Help according to your skills and your talents. The most important thing to do is help, no matter what level of help you can or cannot provide.

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