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Ind. Senate affirms Ten Commandments in history displays at public sites

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–The Indiana Senate has passed a bill to permit displays of the Ten Commandments on public property as part of exhibits displaying other documents of historical significance.

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Kent Adams of Bremen, Ind., Senate Bill 2 passed by a vote of 38-9 on Jan. 26. The legislation has been referred to a committee in the state’s House of Representatives, but there is no indication how quickly it will be considered, an aide for Adams told Baptist Press.

“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,” Adams told reporters when the Senate passed the bill. “The Ten Commandments are part of our heritage.”

If passed, the measure would take effect on July 1, 2000, and apply to displays of objects on property owned by the state or a political subdivision.

The brief legislation 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.”

While many applaud Adams initiative, a week before the vote the Indianapolis Star reported that critics say posting the historic document does more than celebrate the nation’s history.

“They say it is just another attempt to use public buildings and funds to thrust one form of religion on others who may have different views,” wrote Star reporter R. Joseph Gelarden. “It breaches what Thomas Jefferson called the wall of separation between church and state, opponents say.”

Among those who spoke out against the proposal was A. Brett Shankman, director of governmental affairs for the Indianapolis Jewish Relations Council. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee that posting the commandments was a simple answer to a complex social problem.

However, Dave Emmert, spokesman for the Indiana School Boards Association, told the newspaper that the posting of the commandments is not religious. He said their purpose is to guide children.

It remains to be seen whether the state legislature’s action will strengthen a decision by the Scott County District 2 school board to post the Ten Commandments as part of an historical display in its schools.

The southern Indiana district generated national media attention after it voted to post a series of 10 “Common Cents Precepts.” The list originally spanned 11, but in early January the school board decided to delete “Trust in God” to avoid a potential lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

As part of the resolution to post the precepts, the board also voted to purchase more educational materials on morality and to erect the historical display that included the Ten Commandments.

School superintendent Rob Hooker said he hadn’t seen the Indiana Senate bill yet so he could see how the state defined an educational display. The county is still researching what documents to include in its version, he said.

An educator since 1975, the Indiana native said the furor sparked by the precepts is the most controversial issue he’s been involved in during his career.

“The majority of people are glad the board took a stand,” Hooker said.

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  • Ken Walker