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Ind. House’s Ten Commandments vote adds wrinkle before going to governor

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–The Indiana House of Representatives, in approving a Ten Commandments bill Feb. 7, ventured a step further than the Indiana Senate’s vote for the legislation Jan. 26.

In addition to allowing the Ten Commandments to be displayed in the context of other key historical documents in schools and government buildings, the Indiana House amended its bill to allow freestanding Ten Commandments displays currently in public buildings to remain in place.

A conference committee of Indiana House and Senate members is slated to meet later in February.

Indiana Gov. Frank O’Bannon has not issued a statement on the House version, a spokesman told Baptist Press Feb. 8, but the governor earlier had said he would sign a Ten Commandments bill if his legal advisers deem it constitutional.

Public displays of the Ten Commandments were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1980 Kentucky case, with the court calling such displays “plainly religious in nature.” However, a 1998 case is now pending before the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals over an Indiana federal judge’s ruling that a display of the Ten Commandments outside Elkhart’s city hall does not violate the Constitution’s church-state separation provisions.

Last year, the Indiana Civil Liberties Union settled a lawsuit against Grant County over a display of the Ten Commandments in the county courthouse’s main hallway, The Indianapolis Star also recounted. The county agreed to include the Ten Commandments in a display with a larger historical context.

The Indiana House’s 30-minute debate Feb. 7 concluded with the bill’s Democratic sponsor, Jerry Denbo of French Lick, reading the Ten Commandments on the House floor and then challenging his colleagues: “If any of you think these are bad principles … vote no on the bill.”

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Republican Kent Adams of Bremen, told reporters after the Senate’s Jan. 26 vote: “America has become the greatest nation on the face of the earth today because children from generation to generation have been taught about our heritage. The Ten Commandments are part of our heritage.”

Apart from the House amendment for currently posted Ten Commandments displays to remain in place, the Senate version reads: “An object containing the words of the Ten Commandments may be displayed on real property owned by the [state or a political subdivision] along with other documents of historical significance that have formed and influenced the United States legal or governmental system.

“Such display of an object containing the words of the Ten Commandments shall be in the same manner and appearance generally as other documents and objects displayed, and shall not be presented or displayed in any fashion that results in calling attention to it apart from the other displayed documents and objects.”

Pro-Ten Commandments bills also are being considered in at least five states, Kentucky, Colorado, Georgia, South Dakota and Oklahoma.

The Indiana Senate bill called for an effective date of July 1.

Todd Starnes & Ken Walker contributed to this article.