A man walks past the Ten Commandments monument on Nov. 18, 2002, in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. A federal judge ordered the monument to be removed. / Kevin Glackmeyer, Montgomery, Ala., Advertiser
MONTGOMERY, Ala. The Alabama Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment Tuesday that would allow for the public display of the Ten Commandments, and other historically significant documents that reflect the rule of law in the nation, at schools and other public places in the state.
The Senate passed the bill overwhelmingly, and it now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. If the Legislature passes the bill, Alabama voters ultimately would decide the fate of the amendment.
Republican state Sen. Gerald Dial said as he travels his district that a "lot of people are saying we need to begin to do some things to turn this country around." He said he was hopeful that if people saw the Ten Commandments it would remind some and help others to change their way of thinking.
Democratic state Sen. Bobby Singleton argues the amendment would be constitutional and would violate the freedom of religion of some people.
Dial said he is not a constitutional lawyer, but he knows a lot of people support the amendment. He also said they expanded the amendment to include other historic documents.
Current Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore brought the public display of the Ten Commandments to the forefront during a legal and political fight over him displaying the Commandments on a more than 2-ton granite monument he had placed in the state judicial building.
Moore originally was removed from office almost a decade ago for refusing a federal judge's order to remove the monument, which also depicted other historic documents. Moore ran again last year and reclaimed his seat.
The Senate added an amendment to include other documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, that are historically significant but also could have religious significance and mention God or a creator.
"This constitutional amendment confirms that there are circumstances where such displays are appropriate and legal," said Republican state Sen. Bryan Taylor.
Taylor said there is widespread misunderstanding of the establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution and a belief that it prohibits the display of the Ten Commandments, which he said is not accurate. He said local governments, such as school boards or city councils, are afraid of lawsuits he said have no merit.
Taylor said he hopes the amendment, if passed by voters in Alabama, would stop frivolous lawsuits in state courts if someone decided to contest whether the Declaration of Independence should be displayed because it mentions God.
Dial, who has introduced the proposal for three years, and Taylor said the Ten Commandments are depicted in the U.S. Supreme Court building.
The Senate also added an amendment that would require the governing body, such as a school board or county commission, that oversees that property to approve the display. Singleton said that adds a "check and balance" to ensure the display complies with the policies of that entity.
Taylor said the display has to be appropriate. He said a racist manifesto could not be displayed because it has a religious reference.
Dial's proposal also would prohibit the use of public funds to defend the constitutionality of the amendment.
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