Many Virginia lawmakers have succumbed to the siren song of the far right. This became evident recently when five members of Virginia’s congressional delegation decided to co-sponsor a bill that orders federal courts to leave decisions about the display of the Ten Commandments on public property exclusively to the states.
Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., introduced the measure (H.R. 2045) in May, presumably because he was angered by a recent federal court ruling that required the removal of a monument to the Ten Commandments from a judicial building in Montgomery, Ala. He calls his proposed law the “Ten Commandments Defense Act.”
The bill, which has been referred to the Committee on the Constitution, asserts that “All human beings are endowed by their Creator [with certain inalienable rights] and to which they are entitled by the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” The bill further states that “The organic laws of the United States Code… recognize God as the source of the blessings of liberty.”
Aderholt’s bill, if enacted into law, would prohibit federal courts from ordering the removal of the Decalogue from public buildings, including schools, courthouses and all other buildings that are supported with public funds.
The bill was drafted by Robert George, a member of the board of directors of The Family Research Council, a far-right political action group headquartered in Washington.
The members of Virginia’s congressional delegation who are supporting Aderholt are all Republicans. They include Reps. Jo Ann Davis, 1st; Edward L. Schrock, 2nd; Randy Forbes, 4th; Virgil H. Goode, 5th; and Bob Goodlatte, 6th.
Two conservative Republicans who represent Northern Virginia – Reps. Frank R. Wolf, 10th, and Thomas M. Davis III, 11th – have not yet taken a position on Aderholt’s bill.
According to Aderholt and two of his principal supporters, Reps. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., and Mike Pence, R-Ind., the nation’s laws are based in large part on the Ten Commandments and therefore government officials may display the Decalogue wherever they please.
Constitutional scholars, however, do not agree. They argue that the Ten Commandments may be an important moral code to millions of believers, but they are not the foundation of American law.
A measure similar to Aderholt’s has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo. Allard’s bill, (S.1558) has additional provisions that would bar federal courts from hearing cases challenging recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools and the use of “In God We Trust” as the national motto.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was critical of both bills. “Aderholt and Allard want government to promote religion,” said Lynn. “They are on the wrong track. Religion does not need government help to remain healthy and to prosper, and the First Amendment prohibits government promotion of religion. Aderholt and Allard’s actions show contempt for American constitutional principles.”
Politicians at the state level are also pushing the Ten Commandments. In the 2002 session of Virginia’s General Assembly, for example, Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Dale City, introduced a law that would require the display of the Decalogue in all public schools. The bill passed the House of Delegates on a 52-46 vote, but died in a senate committee.
Gary Jacobsen lives in Woodbridge.