RAY HENRY, Associated Press
ATLANTA - A copy of the Ten Commandments could be posted in all Georgia government buildings and schools under a bill passed unanimously Tuesday by House lawmakers.
Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, is seeking to expand a 2006 law that already permits the passage from the Old Testament to be displayed in judicial buildings and courthouses when accompanied by other historical documents deemed to have influenced the U.S. legal system. Georgia lawmakers passed that original law one year after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 struck down Commandment displays in two Kentucky courthouses, ruling they appeared to be a government endorsement of Christianity.
His latest bill passed by a vote of 161-0 and now heads to the state Senate. It has few vocal opponents and a strong chance of passing in a Bible Belt legislature.
"If you look at the law of the United States, we have a lot of laws that are based on the Christian and Jewish Ten Commandments, so I felt that was a very appropriate item to be put in there," Benton said.
His opponents argue the bill would allow the Ten Commandments to be posted in school buildings, an area where courts typically draw a sharper line in favor of the secular in disputes over church and state.
"There's a faulty premise there and that is that The Ten Commandments has anything to do with the civil laws of the United States - it does not, of course," said Barry Lynn, a Christian minister and the executive director of the Washington-based Americans United For Separation Of Church and State. "We don't make it illegal to dishonor our mother and father. We don't have blasphemy laws."
Lynn predicted that expanding the displays could provoke a lawsuit. Lawyers for his group last year counted at least at least five other states - Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, South Dakota and Oklahoma - that passed resolutions or laws promoting the display of the Commandments in public buildings.
"This is the kind of thing that raises a gigantic red flag and on that flag are the words, 'Sue us,'" he said.
Georgia lawmakers say they have non-religious reasons for displaying the Ten Commandments. Under state law, the commandments can only be put up in courthouses when side-by-side eight other same-sized texts that lawmakers say educate the public about the history of American law. Few people have publicly clamored for widespread study of some of those more obscure documents on that list, like the 1215 Magna Carta from King John of England.
The display also includes the 1620 Mayflower Compact, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, "The Star-Spangled Banner," the national motto ("In God We Trust"), the preamble of Georgia's constitution, the U.S. Bill of Rights and a description about the image of Lady Justice.